New Smyrna Beach police department emphasizes benefits to adding drones as policing tool.
NEW SMYRNA BEACH — New Smyrna Beach Police Department is looking to become the latest local law enforcement agency to fly drones in public safety and crime fighting situations.
Police say going to the air can help them provide more efficient traffic crash processing and possibly help avoid some dangerous situations for officers and the public.[READ MORE: Dronejacker: ERAU professor in Daytona invents system to seize control of unmanned aircraft]
“When we have traffic crashes, with a fatal component, that can tie up roadways as officers try to collect data,” said Lt. Christopher Kirk. “Being able to put a drone up and map that area quickly, gets everything facilitated in a quicker manner.”
In cases of suspects fleeing or escaping, New Smyrna Beach police can put a drone to work if the Volusia County sheriff’s helicopter isn’t available.
“It allows us to put eyes up in the sky and immediately to follow somebody so that we’re not putting the public or officers at additional risk,” said Kirk.
A drone can also help firefighters in communicate the locations of the the hottest parts of a fire.
Drones aircraft are already at work elsewhere in Volusia County, for police in Daytona Beach and Holly Hill, and the Sheriff’s Office. Some local municipalities and utilities also use them.
”They can be useful tools when looking for missing persons or conducting post storm surveys of damaged structures,“ said Holly Hill police Chief, Steve Aldrich.
Holly Hill is has two DJI Mavic Pro II. The total cost of the Unmanned Aerial Systems program, including two drones and seven FAA certified pilots, is approximately $5,000.”
During the Neighborhood Council meeting, the question of how much will it cost to add drones was addressed.
“We’re still trying to finalize that,” said Police Chief Mike Coffin. “The DJI Phantom Four is a brand new aircraft so we’re in a neighborhood of about $55,000 of hardware, software and training.”
The pricing includes the number of officers to receive the required training, the brand and number of drones, all of which is subject the City Commission approval. Police did not release specific details of their proposal.
With use of any kind of new technology, putting residents at ease is key.
“The more information we get out there I think the better people understand what it is we’re trying to do,” Coffin said. “Not only to get input on our directives and policies, but to quell some fears. Specifically, for surveillance and things like that.”
All pilots will be required to complete FAA certification. A 15-hour course with a mandatory exam that all pilots must pass in order to operate the drones. They must then pass assessments, every 24 months after that.
There are Florida laws on how law enforcement can use drones.
If the law enforcement agency first obtains a search warrant signed by a judge authorizing the use of a drone. For instance, if there is a reasonable expectation of privacy at ground level, police would need a warrant to fly a drone for observation over private property.
But there are exceptions. Legal scenarios for the use of drones include when a law enforcement agency has reasonable suspicion of imminent danger to a person or property, needs to track a suspect or is trying to prevent the destruction of evidence or search for a missing person.
“These systems are not autonomous,” Kirk said. “They’re essentially an extension of the pilot on the ground. They must be flown by that pilot and watched by an observer at all times.”