The Georgetown Police Department is looking to purchase and utilize several drones to aid officers.
Drone is the generic term for an unmanned aircraft, Chief of Police Wayne Nero said in a presentation to council members at an Oct. 8 workshop. Officers certified to pilot the drones could use them for fatality crash scene and crime scene documentation; search and rescue and missing person missions; suspect apprehension; first responder safety; accident reconstruction; hazmat and fire suppression and more.
Officers have been researching the program for the past nine months, according to Nero. He said drone use is a rapidly evolving concept in law enforcement, and Georgetown officers have talked to 15 to 20 agencies over the phone and made several site visits to learn about other programs and policies.
If the program were to be established, police pilots would need to be be trained and authorized to operate the drones.
“We’re subject to a lot of regulations that private citizens are not,” Nero said.
The cost to launch the drone program would be about $25,000, Nero said. He added that although exact maintenance costs remain to be determined, they are likely to be low and to come mainly from the prices of batteries and frame repairs.
The drones can be deployed rapidly and can provide officers with a degree of situational awareness they could not otherwise get without a helicopter, Nero said, adding that compared to helicopters, drones are extremely cost-effective to operate and maintain.
Police officers who use drones to gather information are still held to state and federal laws regarding privacy. Nero shared with council nine instances in which it is lawful to obtain images via drones on private property:
- Consent of property owner
- Pursuant to valid search/arrest warrant
- Immediate pursuit of suspect for non-misdemeanor
- Crime scene documentation for non-misdemeanor
- Search for missing person
- High risk tactical operation/threat to human life
- Search and rescue
- Hazmat or fire suppression
- Public real property or persons on that property
The department plans to purchase two daytime and two nighttime drones along with four training aircrafts. Nero said he hopes to have the program operational by the end of this year.