Sunday, April 22, 2018

Oro Valley, Arizona, police second local law enforcement agency in area using drones

Oro Valley Police Department Lt. John Teachout flies the new DJI Matrice 200 commercial-grade quadcopter at the OVPD station on April 17, 2018 in Tucson, Arizona.  It is one of three new drones in service in the department.

The Oro Valley Police Department has become the second local law enforcement agency in the Southern Arizona region to begin regularly using drones.

The idea came from the 2017 Oro Valley Music Festival in September where the Sahuarita Police Department, first in Arizona to purchase drones in late 2016, agreed to provide their drones for the event. It allowed the Oro Valley officers to better adjust for crowd management, move personnel around and watch for problems.

“In doing this we realized that we needed to tighten up a few things,” said Lt. John Teachout, who oversees the Oro Valley police drone program. “We moved folks around, we moved some of our resources around and we could also make sure people weren’t entering the venue from areas that weren’t authorized.”

Days after the festival, a gunman opened fire on 20,000 people at the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas, killing 58 people including Christiana Duarte, a recent University of Arizona graduate.

The department took notice and purchased three drones from Chinese drone manufacturer DJI. Two of the drones each cost $1,000 and the third, a Matrice 200 Series drone, cost $5,000 and can be equipped with different camera systems and can be flown in bad weather.

The department’s first used a new drone to search for an elderly female with dementia who strayed from home in January. She was later found by a patrol officer. A drone also assisted in taking aerial photographs of a crime scene.

Drones can now also map the scenes of vehicle collisions to help investigators determine what happened, which allows roads to be reopened in a more rapid fashion, Teachout said.

While the unmanned aircraft are not a replacement for helicopters or other large aircraft needed for major incidents, smaller incidents can now be handled in a cost effective and safer manner with a drone.

According to DJI, the company specifically makes some of its drones for use by police agencies. “Small UAVs that can fit in any police vehicle give law enforcement teams broad situational awareness, allowing them to formulate an appropriate response in even complex and testing environments,” the company’s website said.

The department has seven officers who can fly the drones and who are licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration. The department conducts ongoing training with officers to assure they remain skilled at flying the drones.

Community outreach is an important part in using the drones, Teachout said, and the plane is not to operate them surreptitiously.

“We’re well aware of the constitutional limitations as it relates to the Fourth Amendment and we tell the public what these things are intended to do, it’s not to go peering into people’s back yards out of curiosity, it’s purpose driven,” he said.

Teachout said the department follows guidelines from the International Association of Chiefs of Police on how the drones should be operated during police incidents.

One of the association’s guidelines directly addresses privacy. It said if the department believes the aircraft will collect evidence of criminal wrongdoing but also intrude upon a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy, the agency should secure a search warrant first.

“We think that these tools, while new, are going to be a more efficient way for your police department to provide better and more expedient service to our community in a cost effective manner,” he said.

Original article can be found here ➤

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