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How high-resolution aerial maps help law enforcement

May 2022

Aerial imagery has been embraced by law enforcement to protect citizens and create an environment for everyone to safely interact with a world full of risk.

May 2022

New forms of technology are rapidly being adopted by businesses and governments in support of improved operations, planning, and tracking. Aerial imagery — high-resolution maps captured from planes — has long been used by urban planners, engineers, solar installers, pavers, and insurers to address a wide range of applications. These maps provide current, clear imagery of where we live and travel. They also offer the ground truth about buildings, roads, landscapes, parks, schools, residences, and more.
Due to the accuracy of its location data, aerial imagery has been embraced by local, state, and federal law enforcement in the areas of:
  • Situational awareness
  • Emergency management
  • Criminal investigations
  • Criminal apprehensions
  • Crowd control
  • Event management
  • Complex area navigation
If there’s one common thread in these use cases, it’s “safety”. Law enforcement uses aerial maps to protect citizens and create an environment for everyone to safely interact with a world full of risk.
Line of sight safety access mapped in ArcGIS
Imagine a scenario where police are investigating a known suspect. An arrest warrant is issued and law enforcement is tasked with bringing that person into custody quickly and without incident. They have narrowed the suspect’s location to a single property and have reason to believe this individual can be found.
Rather than drive by the property and potentially alert someone to the investigation, they use aerial imagery. This allows them to remotely assess the situation using a vertical view of the home and its surrounding landscape. An angled view shows doors, windows, and possible exit points. Police can even accurately measure the distance from the home to the nearby tree line. As they begin to analyze the property, they notice a fence and measure how high it is. They identify a gap in the fence line and measure the distance from that spot to a stream that runs behind the property. As the team continues to pan and zoom, they visualize neighboring homes, small buildings, and a detached garage. Police also notice that the property in question has a swing set and a sandbox indicating children may be at the residence — the imagery is so clear they can see a dog pen and its open door.
Home with woods on multiple sides, a body of water in the back, and outdoor features that indicate the possibility of children being present
These property and landscape characteristics help in so many ways; police understand how someone might flee the property and how far they would need to travel to the tree line. Aerial imagery helps law enforcement plan, assess risk, prepare, ready resources, and communicate with broader teams using the same picture. Everyone works in harmony and when the moment of truth arrives, they execute their plan flawlessly and in a coordinated manner.
High-resolution aerial maps are being used to address these mission-critical issues every day. They reduce risk and increase safety levels for events of all sizes; they provide law enforcement officials with the ability to interact with the landscape and “as-built” environment within the confines of the police station; and they detail important measurements, perspectives, and visual insights that may end up saving lives.
Like most use cases, there’s an ecosystem of other stakeholders that need to be involved and informed. For example, emergency management teams need to know the optimal route into and out of the property. With constant change, road construction, and complicated areas such as office parks, malls, universities, oil refineries, or construction sites, off-the-shelf maps simply aren’t current enough to navigate the landscape. Aerial imagery taken days or weeks before the event empowers law enforcement officials and EMTs with the confidence they need to streamline operations.
Measuring parade route distance in MapBrowser
While the example above is heavily focused on law enforcement, cities, counties, event planners, and sponsors often work with aerial maps to orchestrate major events. In preparation for any large gathering, planning needs to take place to construct stages, route traffic, establish parking areas, build pathways, set up tents, locate food kiosks, situate barricades, and establish where key personnel will be stationed. Transportation to and from the event often changes to accommodate large crowds. New bus stops, or even pop-up train stations, may need to be built.
Police vehicles and city crews lining Alabama St. for protests
Aerial mapping, including both current and historical imagery, can be used to visualize all of this. A subtle but important benefit of instant access to high-resolution maps is everyone involved sees the same picture. Imagine disparate organizations on Zoom calls or simply talking over the phone as they discuss the sites and firm up their plans. Collaborative visualization using aerial maps speeds up the entire process.
Some locations are complex — roads are not always well marked. Pathways, alleys, and other lesser-known routes are clearly visible using aerial maps. These tools give law enforcement and emergency management a way to understand the current landscape, road network, and non-obvious access points to address urgent, mission-critical situations. They can easily navigate through complex areas using current aerial data.