Police UAVs: Nearly limitless potential
Probably the most obvious use for a UAV in law enforcement is for search and rescue operations, but there are myriad other uses for these high-tech assets
A couple of weeks ago, Gadsden (Ala.) Police Chief John Crane told his local newspaper that his PD has had unmanned aerial vehicles since 2010, but the UAVs — which have video surveillance capability — haven’t been used “because there hasn’t been a need.”
With no disrespect to Chief Crane, I read that line with my jaw on my clavicle. No need?
In a column I wrote in part because of that news article, I posed the question, “If your department had resources similar to those in Gadsden, what would you use them for?” and a few PoliceOne Members chimed right in with suggestions. One such individual was Curtis Sprague, a retired SWAT Officer and former Federal Air Marshal who now serves as director of the aviation division for a company called Tactical Electronics — click here for more on his story — and between just he and me we came up with a handful of outstanding ideas.
Search and Rescue
“The added benefit of UAV-borne surveillance equipment,” Sprague said, “is that it saves on the cost of operating expensive full-size aviation assets and keeps crews out of harm’s way.”
In many cases, UAV assets can be easily carried in the trunk of a patrol vehicle. In the hands of a skilled operator, they can be deployed and airborne before a host of other types of public safety assets can even be making their way toward the scene.
Whether searching for a suspect or a missing person, EO and Thermal sensors aboard a UAV can prove invaluable.
“Taking measurements related to these collisions can be a tedious process,” Sprague explained. “Our VTOL platform can make one or two passes over the area taking high-resolution, still photos.”
These photos can then be stitched together using software. Photogrammetry technology enables each pixel of the image to be geo-referenced, meaning that measurements can be taken from the photographs back at the company.
“A process that normally might keep the roadway blocked for eight hours can now allow for the normal flow of traffic in the time it takes to remove the debris from the road. Photogrammetry also allows for a three-dimensional, photographic reconstruction of the scene,” Sprague stated.
Sampling mechanisms can augment the sensors and allow for the collection of samples when necessary.
SWAT / ESU / EOD
A UAV with the ability to hover, can be an asset to bomb technicians when rugged terrain or elevation prevents ground based robotics from accessing the suspect device. This UAV can provide detailed high-resolution images and could also be used to deliver a charge or other tools for the purpose of exploiting the device.
Whether to gather descriptions for a search warrant, or to locate a remotely located marijuana plot, a UAV could be used regularly by any narcotics unit.
Get a UAV Program Aloft
Not only are today’s UAVs are relatively inexpensive, technology has advanced so much in the past few years that they’re not as difficult to fly as they once were. Furthermore, getting a UAV program started may involve a lot of work, it also may not be as impossible as some naysayers would have you believe.
You can read about some suggestions for getting your UAV program off the ground by checking out my featured column for today, where I continue my conversation with Curtis Sprague of Tactical Electronics.
I’ve written on the topic of police UAVs numerous times in the past — I’ve simply got a somewhat bizarre interest in the topic — and will almost certainly revisit it again down the line. The abovementioned uses for UAVs in law enforcement are likely just the beginning. Add your own thoughts in the comments area below.
Together we can do some good.
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