POLICE Magazine

NOV 2018

Magazine for police and law enforcement

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28 POLICE NOVEMBER 2018 tions is growing. But they are proving to be most valuable for the following missions: • Search and Rescue—Earlier this year, the Moore County (NC) Sheriff's Office was able to rescue an 11-year-old girl who wandered away into the woods. Lt. Tim Davis brought one of the agency's drones to the scene and flew it over the wooded area and 15 minutes later was able to detect the girl using the drone's ther- mal imaging system. She was found safe and asleep under thick brush in an area that had already been searched by teams on the ground. Moore County Sheriff Neil Godfrey told local media that it would have taken 45 minutes or more to bring a helicopter on a commercial drone company to help it bolster ground security at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, which draws as many as 125,000 people per day. Sgt. Dan Marshall of the Indio PD told the Los Angeles Times that the drones were being used to monitor the perimeters. "It takes us a few minutes to get an offi- cer to a perimeter breach, but a drone takes 45 seconds," he said. Now that the FAA has relaxed its regulations for commercial drone operation by public safety agencies, more and more police departments want to add this tool to their capabilities. But many face one more major hurdle, public perception. Whenever a big city police department asks a city council for a drone program, the privacy activists and the ACLU fight it tooth and nail. ere is this misguided belief that law enforcement drones have the capabilities of extremely sophisticated military un- manned aerial vehicles (UAV). e differ- ences are clear to anyone who compares the two different types of aircraft. Mili- tary UAVs are usually capable of deliver- ing missiles on target. Law enforcement drones are not armed. Military UAVs can loiter hours and hours over a target; the Grumman Global Hawk can stay in the air more than a day. In contrast, police drones usually have a flight time of 30 minutes to an hour. e only law enforce- ment agencies using the types of drones that can loiter over an area a long time are federal agencies like the Border Patrol, which need to watch over vast areas of ter- ritory. Despite the fears of privacy activ- ists who believe law enforcement drones could watch them all day long and through the windows of their homes, the truth is that law enforcement drones are not designed for that kind of surveillance, agencies don't have the officers necessary to do it, and it would be illegal to do so without a warrant. e best argument an agency can present to the local bureau- cracy for why a drone program should be implemented is that the aerial imaging provided by drones can save lives. And in many instances, drones can provide law enforcement with that imag- ing capability much more cheaply than helicopters or fixed-wing aircraft. Helicopters cost millions of dollars to purchase and then you have to hire or train pilots. In contrast, law enforce- ment-quality drones cost anywhere from a few thousand dollars to $25,000 and pilots can be trained in-house for a few thousand dollars more. One agency estimated its drone operation costs at $25. In contrast just the fuel costs for one hour of helicopter op- eration is around $600. Does that mean drones can do everything helicopters and their flight crews do for pennies on the dollar? No. Drones are not suited to patrol, or pursuit, or any other mission that requires a human pilot and human observer. ey are not a replacement for manned aircraft, at least not yet. But what they can do is give you the ability to gather aerial imaging quickly and efficiently for missions like searches and overwatch of events or law enforce- ment operations. scene. e drone gave the Moore County SO an air asset that it could deploy quickly and prevent a possible tragedy. • Crime Scene and Accident Scene Imaging—In the past, crime scene investigators and accident investigators had to call in a helicopter in order to get a bird's-eye view of the area. at was an expensive call and one that many agencies were reluc- tant to make because of budget constraints. Drones are so much cheaper to operate that aerial imaging of accident scenes and outdoor crimes scenes is becoming standard practice at some agencies. Drones can be equipped with 3D imaging systems and can capture the entire scene in a similar fashion to a ground- based 3D scanning system. e data can then be measured, animated, and combined with ground-based 3D scans to cre- ate an entire picture of the scene for evidence and courtroom presentations. • Intelligence Gathering at Critical Incidents—Drones can be used to scout a location before a tactical operation such as a high-risk warrant service, to inspect disaster damage, to provide surveillance during an active shooter attack to help locate the shooter, and a host of other eye-in-the-sky missions. • Enhancing Security at Big Events—After the horrific ac- tive shooter incident at the Route 91 country music concert in Las Vegas in October 2017, agencies in jurisdictions that host such events have been finding ways to use drones for crowd and area overwatch. In April the Indio (CA) Police Department hired GUARDIANS IN THE SKY Police drones are different from a military drone (pictured). Military drones can fire weapons and loiter for hours. Police drones can fly an hour at best and are unarmed. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

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