Thursday, August 10, 2017

Daytona Beach Police Department to use drones for search and rescue

DAYTONA BEACH — Police are gearing up to add drones to their fleet, and their chief insists they will be used for search and rescue and emergency management purposes.

Spying will not be part of it, he said.

“It’s not to surveil people,” Capri told a room full of reporters Thursday morning. “It’s to save lives.”

The new drone program, which Capri calls the “unmanned aviation system,” is launching in conjunction with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, which will provide police with the requisite training and certifications needed to use the devices.

One sergeant and four police officers are undergoing training at Embry-Riddle, said Capri, who called unmanned aircraft technology “the future of law enforcement.”

Joseph Cerreta, an assistant professor at Embry-Riddle, said the university started implementing unmanned aircraft technology in its curriculum in 2011 and called it a “very fast-moving technology” that requires a lot of training so that operators can keep up with the advances.

Police hope to roll out the program by the beginning of next year.

It was too soon Thursday to predict how much of the department’s budget will be dedicated to the aviation unit, Capri told reporters.

“I don’t care what it costs,” Capri said. “You can’t put a price on human life.”

Daytona police join their neighbors to the south — Daytona Beach Shores — in implementing a drone program. As of March, that city’s police agency was training eight officers on how to operate the unmanned aircraft, which was used by the city spot damage to tall buildings in the wake of Hurricane Matthew last October.

A drone was donated to the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office earlier this year and Sheriff Mike Chitwood said he has been looking to expand the program. Sheriff’s office spokesman Andrew Gant said the drone is mostly being used in a “training setting” and as far as he knew hasn’t been deployed on any active calls.

“We are exploring its potential for a variety of uses, particularly search-and-rescue scenarios,” he said.

Chief Mark Strobridge, a spokesman for the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, said his agency hasn’t gone beyond the discussion stages when it comes to using drone technology.

Cerreta said ERAU students successfully used the technology during and after a tornado tore through Elk City, Oklahoma. The lessons learned there will apply easily to Daytona Beach, where not only tornadoes happen, but also hurricanes.

“We completely immerse our students with this technology,” Cerreta said.

One of the university’s assistant professors with deep knowledge on the subject of drone technology is former Daytona Beach police officer Anthony Galante, who will be overseeing much of the training.

Privacy issues are a major concern, he said, and those doing the training won’t overlook teaching the pertinent lessons regarding protecting people’s basic rights.

“That’s on everybody’s mind,” Galante said. “That’s a huge issue.”

He added that the devices will not record anything at any time except when they are being used to take crime scene photos. In those cases, a warrant has already been served in the event those crime scene photos are taken on private property.

Otherwise, the drones will serve like “eyes in the sky” and will only provide a livestream feed to those operating it. They won’t be recording, Galante said.

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