BEND, OR -- Drones are an increasingly popular tool for law enforcement. The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office recently purchased six unmanned aircraft, with plans to deploy them in patrol vehicles over the next month.
Sgt. William Bailey is overseeing the program and says drones allow deputies to search for suspects without putting their own life at risk, "Being a sheriff’s office, we’re spread out; we have a lot of area to cover. So having these spread out in different patrol cars in different situations, we can utilize them for a number of scenarios." He adds, "We can utilize it to help us pinpoint where the person, more likely than not, is. So, if we have a large field or forest area and we knew the subject had fled and we’re chasing this person and we’re able to get a good perimeter set up to contain the person, then we could put the drone up in the air, locate where the person is hiding and then we can direct resources in so we’re not just blindly walking into a field." They will also be used to search for missing persons and reconstruct crash scenes, which Bailey says drones can do in about a quarter of the time it currently takes for manual reconstruction.
Bailey says Search and Rescue has, for several years, used a larger drone that cost between $25,000 and $30,000. These new patrol drones are about $3,000 each, including necessary accessories, "The technology and the cost has come down so much that we can have a number of these platforms available."
Deputies are now getting trained and licensed to fly the new drones, which are controlled by a small handheld remote with two joysticks attached to an iPad Mini. "Technology’s come a long way when it comes to drones, being able to have a very small platform – lightweight, easily transportable; but have the technology," Sgt. Bailey tells KBND News, "In this case, [it] has a dual camera (pictured). So, there’s a thermal-imaging capability that our patrol fleet could utilize." Deputies must follow the same rules and licensing regulations as the general public and the drones are registered with the FAA.