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The Proliferation of ‘In Absentia’ Crime

@Tony_Hallett, CEO, Unmanned Response

Statistics imply that the crime rate in the United States is stable; perhaps even declining. However, there are equally compelling statistics, albeit not neatly packaged, that suggest a dramatic rise of unsolvable crime is on the horizon.

Consider cybercrime, widely recognized as America’s top national security threat. The separation from both the crime scene and victim dramatically reduces the likelihood of prosecuting, or even identifying, a perpetrator. Current FBI statistics show conventional crime (such as burglary) is declining while cybercrime, which is more lucrative, is increasing:




Avg Loss





– 3.7%



FBI 2012 UCR



+ 8.3%


5.0% (est)

FBI 2012 IC3

Cybercrime is not the only “long-distance” crime. Postal services have been used for anonymous delivery of explosives for 250 years. Telephones have been used to threaten and defraud victims for decades.

One of the most infamous long-distance perpetrators is the Unabomber. His 18-year terror campaign prompted one of the longest and most expensive FBI investigations in history. Yet, Ted Kaczynski eluded detection until he was turned in by his own brother. The implications are chilling. One delusional guy, living in a shack, remotely terrorized America for nearly two decades.

We are now at the doorstep of an even more terrifying modus of remotely-committed crime. Fueled by success in combat, unmanned robotic vehicles (aka drones) in all shapes and sizes are headed for American soil, airways, and waterways. Drones will soon proliferate in business, recreation, and (predictably) crime.

First responders are not only unprepared for robotic crime, most are unaware this threat even exists. Perhaps the concept of a drone committing a crime is just too abstract for anyone but Sci-Fi enthusiasts. Not long ago, the concept of two planes flying into the World Trade Center was also quite abstract.

The unique feature of parcel, telephone, cyber, and robotic crime is that a perpetrator can effectuate a criminal act from a remote location through an intermediary such as a mail carrier or the Internet. I call this in absentia crime.

In Absentia Crime





Explosives and Biological Agents

Threats, Pranks, Stalking, Fraud

Fraud, Child Porn, Stalking, Threats

Virtually Any Cyber or Conventional Crime

Robotic crime will have a profound impact on all public safety agencies. “UFO” sightings, pranks, accidents, stalking, property crimes, and eventually violent crimes will dramatically disrupt conventional response and mitigation protocol. A threatened bomb site can no longer be given an “all clear” after a search – weaponized drones can be deployed to any target, any time. Indeed, unmanned robotic systems extend the tactical capabilities of a tech-savvy lone wolf who can now simultaneously attack multiple targets with multiple drones.

Criminal investigations will likewise be disrupted. Place and time, as in “placing the suspect at the scene when the crime occurred”, are no longer relevant parameters. The characteristics of in absentia crime will contribute to longer and more expensive investigations.

Investigation Objectives

“In Absentia” Crime Characteristics

1.  Identify the suspect

2.  Verify the suspect had the means, motive, and opportunity

3.  Connect the suspect to the crime scene

– Incomplete, inconsistent, or non-existent criminal statutes

– Few if any witnesses to provide testimonial evidence

– Little or no physical evidence at primary crime scene

– Perpetrators difficult to identify and find

– At least two crime scenes, often in multiple jurisdictions

– Responders and investigators unfamiliar with the technology

– Warrants often needed for social media and wireless carriers

– Lack of forensic examination standards for robotic crime

– Perpetrator seldom has physical connection to crime scene

Who will respond to and investigate robotic crime? Most of the 18,000 local and state law enforcement agencies do not have the capacity for complex responses and prolonged investigations. Yet, local departments will have no choice but to respond when a shotgun-toting quad shows up in the neighborhood or a camera-equipped quad is peering into someone’s bedroom window.

Then what? Which of the 70+ federal law enforcement agencies might have responsibility and jurisdiction? Even if a rouge drone is safely “captured,” which of the 400+ public crime labs in the country is prepared to conduct a thorough forensic analysis?

Disruptive innovation is a game changer that awards competitive advantage to early adopters. The addition of robotic crime to cyber and other in absentia crime dramatically disrupts longstanding tactical strategies of first responders and criminal investigators. It is imperative to recognize and prepare for this imminent threat before the sinister image of a weaponized drone replaces the hooded Unabomber sketch as the icon of unsolvable crime.


  1. Sid Heal says:

    One other potential is “hybrid crime” in which the use of robots or drones provides enabling capabilities not presently available. Consider extortion as one example. The crime itself would be characterized by the conventional threats but the threats could be presented both contemporaneously in time and place but controlled remotely. Moreover, the unending diligence of robotics provides a threat even after a perpetrator is caught and even dead!

    • Sid’s right on the money. Imagine a time when armed robotic drones are autonomous with the equivalent of fire and forget capabilities. Long after the perpetrator has been captured or killed those drones will continue to fulfill their pre-programmed mission. A missile will self-destruct if it can’t fulfill its mission with a few seconds or minutes. But a drone could linger for days and in the future weeks or months.

  2. Julie Grimaldi says:

    Burgeoning innovations to disrupt public peace/safety combined with lack of response capacity are two very formidable factors to any equation. The addition of drones presents an intriguing, if not thoroughly eery perspective, as well a vivid heads-up for law enforcement to heed – now. Good!

  3. Marc Goodman says:

    Very interesting article. The other challenges with in-abstentia crime is that they are very difficult to detect. Cybercrime is not only difficult to investigate and prosecute, but most of the time, the victim of the crime doesn’t even know he or she has been victimized. As more and more systems become automated, these challenges will grow moving forward and we will have to contend with many “ghosts in the machine” wherein crime is taking place at scale without the victim’s knowledge.

  4. Paula Nelson says:

    Robotic personal security is part of solution. It is a feature that will be available in our elder care robots and it can be made affordable.

    As always, the good guys need to be one step ahead of the bad guys

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