Asheville -- November 19, 2023: The Asheville Police Department (APD) has recently come under scrutiny for its use of drones in targeting and arresting homeless individuals as part of its "Special Operations" unit.

The expansion of drone surveillance to homeless encampments has sparked a wave of criticism from civil rights groups and disability advocates who argue that it is not only discriminatory but also invasive. The APD contends that the use of drones is a necessary and effective tool in combating crime, but the controversy surrounding the issue has intensified in recent months.

Expanding Drone Surveillance

In October 2023, the APD announced an expansion of its drone program to include the surveillance of homeless encampments. The department stated that the drones would be employed to "identify potential threats" and "help prevent crime." However, critics quickly raised concerns about the potential for harassment and intimidation of homeless individuals, arguing that the use of drones could exacerbate an already vulnerable situation.

On October 9, 2023, the APD proudly declared the apprehension of 49 repeat offenders in a Special Operation involving drone deployment. While the department framed this as a success in crime prevention, critics questioned the methods employed and the impact on the rights of homeless individuals.

Arrests and Lack of Probable Cause

In November 2023, the APD made a series of arrests of homeless individuals using drones. The department claimed that these arrests were made for "outstanding warrants" and "illegal activity." However, critics argued that the arrests seemed arbitrary and lacked clear probable cause, suggesting that drone surveillance may be used as a tool for profiling and targeting homeless individuals without proper legal justification.

Civil Liberties and Privacy Concerns

The use of drones by the APD to target and arrest homeless individuals has ignited a broader debate about civil liberties and privacy rights. Advocates argue that such practices violate the Fourth Amendment rights of the homeless, which protect against unreasonable searches and seizures. The intrusive nature of drone surveillance raises questions about the line between effective crime prevention and an overreach of government power.

The APD's Defense

In response to the growing criticism, the APD has defended its use of drones, maintaining that they are a valuable and efficient tool for crime prevention. The department argues that the technology allows them to identify and apprehend repeat offenders, thereby making the community safer. However, critics contend that the potential benefits do not outweigh the infringement on the rights and dignity of homeless individuals.


The controversy surrounding the Asheville Police Department's use of drones to target and arrest homeless individuals highlights the delicate balance between public safety and individual rights. As civil rights groups and advocates continue to voice their concerns, it remains to be seen whether there will be a reassessment of its drone program and address the growing worries about civil liberties and privacy infringements. The debate underscores the ongoing need for a thoughtful and transparent discussion about the appropriate use of technology in law enforcement and the protection of the rights of all citizens.


Image Credit: WNCTimes

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