The increasingly popular public safety tech is being pitched as means of keeping officers out of harm’s way and locating at-risk individuals, Savannah police officials say.
(TNS) — Late last month, a Toyota Corolla crashed into a Savannah, Ga., home after the driver lost control of the vehicle on DeRenne Avenue and hit a car parked outside the residence, resulting in the Corolla's owner being transported to Memorial Health University Medical Center with serious injuries.
Two weeks earlier, SWAT unit rushed inside a business on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and apprehended a barricaded gunman after failing to get the suspect to exit the building.
And on June 27, a group of Savannah police cadets located a missing 2 year old during a mass search in the woods near Savannah Highlands.
All three incidents represent times when officers could have benefited from having an eye in the sky, according to interim Savannah Police Chief Mark Revenew.
That is why the department is moving forward with a plan initially proposed by former Chief Joseph Lumpkin to use small unmanned aerial systems, commonly referred to as drones, to aid in searches for missing persons, barricaded gunman incidents and accident investigations, Revenew said.
"You take a picture and you know what you see in the lens, but what prints out is just a piece of paper," he said. "Having that whole aerial view is amazing."
On Monday, the city issued a bid request for the purchase of three of the drones, each with their own specialized features for the type of assistance they are meant to provide. High-resolution cameras will provide a full picture of the accident scenes that can be documented and cleared more quickly with the use of the technology, Revenew said, while thermal imaging can be used to pick up the heat signatures of missing people that could go unnoticed by the eye alone. The drone that will be used during SWAT calls will have the ability to snake through the building to help locate suspects and identify innocent bystanders, in addition to closely examining potential bombs, Revenew said.
"You'd be able to get a better view of the package without putting officers at risk," he said.
Savannah will be joining at least three other police departments in Georgia that that use drones, including the city of Duluth and Gwinnett and Henry counties.
Gwinnett Master Police Officer Michael Niziurski said his department has benefited from using the devices since late 2015 mostly by providing improved documentation of accident scenes, but also assisting in the occasional SWAT operation. There has also been some cost savings achieved by not having to call in a helicopter when an accident called for a higher vantage point, Niziurski said.
"You've got everything in one picture," he said. "For some people it's hard to piece everything together versus with this everything is held together in one shot."
State legislation governing drone usage, which was adopted last year, follows the regulations of the Federal Aviation Administration, which includes restrictions regarding hovering heights and where the devices can fly, said Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah.
"The police are well within their right as long as they are within the federal guidelines," Stephens said.
As part of the bid request, the vendor is to train officers on properly operating the drones, in addition to FAA training already being provided to some officers by the Georgia Public Safety Training Center, and the department will also develop a policy outlining the limited ways the technology will be used, Revenew said.
"We'll have a community meeting to address the public's concerns and to assure them publicly that these are not going to be used for any kind of surveillance or spying or anything like that," he said.
Confiscated funds will be used to purchase the devices that Revenew said he expects the department to put to use within six months.
©2018 Savannah Morning News (Savannah, Ga.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.