BEND, OR -- Gresham Police said last week it was the first in the state to use drones as first responders. However, Bend Police now say it has been testing its own such program since March.
Lt. Brian Beekman manages the team and says drones provide important information to responding officers before they arrive in their patrol car, "If a drone is immediately able to launch, it can go directly to a call at a speed of 20-30 miles an hour, except no traffic lights, no congestion, no pedestrians. It can just go directly to the call and figure out what’s going on." He tells KBND News, "In a hazardous or dangerous situation, if you can get a drone to the scene that can see in real time what is happening, is there a weapon involved, is there not? Is the suspect on scene; are they not? If we can get that information immediately to first responders, that makes the call safer for everyone and makes the outcome better."
Beekman says Oregon has strict privacy rules for drones, and the camera can only operate over a scene when it can be justified as a law enforcement purpose. Bend PD's drone program began in 2016.
Bend isn’t using drones as frequently as Gresham, partly because it would require an officer be stationed in one location and maintain visual contact with the drone, as required by the FAA. GPD uses City Hall as its launch point. But Bend’s footprint is bigger than Gresham. And Beekman says that makes it more difficult to decide where that station would be. "27th Street by the dump, I don’t think that’s our priority. But Franklin and Wall? Okay. That’s a priority. So, we’re trying to work all that through and just have a really sound program that serves public safety well and so we’re not rushing into this."
Lt. Beekman says the FAA has waived the “line of sight” requirement for at least one police agency in Texas, using special technology to detect potential aerial hazards. That could prove useful in Bend in the future. "But we’ve been able to test: how quick can our response time be? How beneficial is it to have a drone function in the role of a first responder? And that will set the stage for us to articulate, ‘yes, this has a lot of value, this works, this will help our community, this will make calls safer.’ But we just want to take that officer back, so to speak, and put technology in place to fulfill that role."
Click HERE for more on BPD's drone program, and data showing how often it's used.
file photo: A drone searches for a suspect running from Bend Police officers.