UAS technology has become an effective tool for law enforcement agencies across the country. Some agencies added UAS to their existing manned aviation programs. Others use UAS exclusively. Here are success stories from a few agencies.
Low-cost UAS program expands to support firefighters in finding hot spots, renders 3-D models of crime scenes and finds fugitives.
UAS test program proves successful in assisting with hot spot sensing, suspect apprehension and more.
Sheriff's Office UAS program, started in 2017, has helped find missing persons, apprehend fleeing suspects and disarm a distraught woman.
UAS operations supports disaster recovery after hurricanes, outdoor crime scene documentation and more.
Alameda County Sheriff’s Office
After flying hundreds of missions, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office has gone well beyond the basic. Now they fly UAS to help firefighters find hot spots, create 3-D models of crime scenes and assist with tactical operations. And, the low-cost equipment has proven effective in enhancing public safety. After the UAS program was used in apprehending a dangerous shooting suspect, Alameda County incorporated flights into more of its high-risk tactical operations. In another case, UAS provided additional eyes on suspects during a Narcotics Task Force search operation. Aerial surveillance pointed officers to valuable evidence and tracked armed fleeing suspects, and ultimately assisted in apprehending them. Deputy Sheriff Rick Hassna, the program’s chief pilot says, that UAS operators can fly ahead of SWAT teams and canine units to pinpoint suspects. UAS are now used in all SWAT missions.
Alameda County has basically written the book on the use of UAS in tactical operations and works with other law enforcement agencies, providing guidance and insight.
The Sheriff’s Office frequently works with other first responders, including firefighters. They assisted at Oakland’s Ghost Ship fire, a warehouse blaze that killed 36 people. The UAS directed firefighters out of harm’s way, searched victims, and utilized thermal imaging cameras to look for hot spots and document the scene. In the most recent wildfires in Sonoma County, UAS were also used to create 3-D models of the devastation.
Alameda County did a lot of groundwork prior to implementing its UAS program. Educating the public about UAS, being transparent and clearly communicating their plan of operation was the key to the successful launch of the program and its ongoing acceptance. As UAS technology improves, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office will continue to find innovative ways to lawfully use it to help first responders better serve the community.
For more information on Alameda County’s UAS program go to www.alamedacountysheriff.org.
Mesa County Sheriff’s Office
The Mesa County Sheriff's Office obtained an unmanned helicopter through a mutual agreement with a UAS manufacturer in the fall of 2009, for free. This unique partnership allowed the Sheriff’s Office to navigate the FAA process and test the potential law enforcement capabilities without extensive financial costs. At the time, the UAS programs in law enforcement across the country numbered less than five agencies, so this was really a pilot program. After nearly 12 months of working with the FAA to gain approval for a COA—Certificate of Authorization, Mesa County tested the aircraft in a one-square mile area at the county Landfill (per the restrictions of the FAA/COA). The unmanned helicopter flies for about 15 minutes and carries a still camera, a color video camera or an Infrared camera—all providing real-time viewing on the ground by the operator.
By the fall of 2010, the agency had modified their COA agreement with the FAA to allow them to fly their UAS anywhere in Mesa County, during daytime hours. This greatly extended their testing ability and allowed them to use UAS operationally. They were able to assist the Colorado State Patrol with fatality crashes (aerial photos), the Grand Junction Fire Department with the White Hall fire (hot spot sensing and aerial photos), suspect apprehension and more.
In January 2012, they tested a fixed-wing UAS with much longer flight time (1 hour) and they see potential in using it for search and rescue missions, wildland fire monitoring and broad area suspect searches.
To date their program has flown more than 82 missions with a combined 300 (plus) flight hours. They are beginning to implement UAS into day-to-day operations. It appears that this new technology will work with law enforcement similar to a K-9 unit in that they are training current staff to operate these systems and allow them to carry the equipment in the back of their patrol car, not requiring the addition of new staff. Each pilot then shares the patrol car, UAS included.
For more information on Mesa County’s UAS program go to http://sheriff.mesacounty.us/uav/
Stafford County Sheriff’s Office
The Stafford County Sheriff’s Office implemented a UAS program in 2017. They have used the aircraft to find a missing person, apprehend fleeing suspects and disarm a distraught woman.
Deputies used UAS technology to find an 18-year-old Mountain View High School student who failed to return home after school. The missing student’s backpack and cell phone were discovered in the school. The Sheriff’s Office dispatched its UAS team along with other deputies to search for the student. By 9:30 p.m. the UAS operator picked up a thermal image believed to be that of the missing student in the far southwest portion of the school property, located near the track. The student was found unharmed.
Not long after it located that missing student, Stafford County Sheriff’s Office deputies were dispatched to a residence in the northern part of the county after receiving a tip that a wanted subject was in the area. He had several outstanding warrants for his arrest and had previously fled from deputies. The UAS operator quickly picked up a thermal image of an individual hiding in the wooded area where they ultimately found the suspect hiding under a tree. He was then taken into custody without incident.
In another case, a mentally-distraught woman who was behaving belligerently in a Walmart parking lot was successfully subdued and disarmed. The Sheriff’s Office deployed dozens of personnel, a Bearcat armored vehicle, a robot and two drones with high-resolution live video. It allowed deputies to take up positions where they were protected while an armored vehicle could come in and deploy pepper spray. The woman was taken into custody and given medical treatment.
For more information on the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office and its use of UAS go to https://www.staffordsheriff.com/.
Aventura Police Department
The Aventura Police Department has an UAS team of eight pilots. They have obtained a Class G COA and a waiver for nighttime flight. The city is located between Miami and Fort Lauderdale and has the third largest shopping mall in the country. Twenty five percent of calls for service for the city are to the mall. The Miami-Dade Police Department provides helicopter support to Aventura, but Aventura developed an UAS program so that they could provide aviation support on their own.
The department uses UAS to enhance its investigative capabilities in a number of ways. They have used it for accident scenes, homicides, outdoor crime scene documentation, SWAT operations, searching for missing persons and wanted persons, and disaster recovery and training. They deploy in three-man teams: a pilot, camera operator and observer.
Over the years, Aventura has used UAS in the following areas:
- Disaster recovery after hurricanes — they reviewed city infrastructure after Hurricane Irma
- Search and rescue — they surveilled wrecked boats after Irma
- Community events — they review large events like bike rides with 10,000 participants
- Crime scene documentation — they helped locate a tent containing the body of a man in a homeless encampment in a dense mangrove.
The Aventura Police Department anticipates that it will expand its UAS operations in the future to include such missions as helping to identify hot spots in building fires and to fly indoors at the mall.
Find out more about the Aventura Police Department at https://www.cityofaventura.com/240/Police.