Police Explore Potential for UAVs in Howard County, Md.

A work group will explore the technology to assess its value as a law enforcement tool, considering cost, usefulness, transparency, training and privacy issues.

by Jess Nocera, Columbia Flier / May 2, 2019
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(TNS) — Howard County police are looking into the possible use of unmanned aircraft systems, known as drones, to enhance and support police operations in the county, the department announced Wednesday.

Police have formed a work group that “will examine the technology, cost, usefulness, transparency, training and privacy issues in launching a program,” according to a news release.

Police Chief Lisa Myers said in a statement, “The work group will explore this technology to assess its potential value as a law enforcement tool here in Howard County.”

She added, “Law enforcement agencies across the nation have adopted aerial drones for a variety of uses, like locating lost children and seniors, providing real-time information about evolving situations, mapping and reaching remote crime scenes, and aiding search-and-rescue operations.”

In Maryland, the Annapolis Office of Emergency Management, the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office and EMS Department, the Cecil County Sheriff’s Office, the Charles County Sheriff’s Office and EMS, the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Department, and St. Mary's County Sheriff’s Office all use drone technology, according to 2018 report by Dan Gettinger, co-director of the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College in New York.

Gettinger said the study sought to measure which state and local public safety agencies nationwide use operating drones. The study includes law enforcement, fire and emergency services, he said.

“We found that there was a big increase [in using drones] from the calendar years of 2017 and 2018 … a lot of these drones were what you could find at a Best Buy ... consumer drones,” Gettinger said.

The center found an 82% increase of public safety agencies using drone technology from 2017 to 2018.

“A lot of useful things can be done with drones,” including using the devices in search and rescue missions, tactical and hazmat situations, Gettinger said.

Another factor in the increase of drone use could be the lower cost of having a drone than using a manned helicopter, he added.

In March, Howard County officials announced the police department’s aviation program was being discontinued in an effort to curb government spending in light of a “historic” $108 million deficit.

Howard will continue to have aviation coverage through partner agencies, including Anne Arundel County, Maryland State Police and other jurisdictions with aviation units, police previously said.

Carroll County has had a drone program in place for nearly two years, according to Sheriff Jim DeWees.

“We’ve used it for primarily aerial photography on crash [scenes] and actually had it up this past week for a missing vulnerable adult,” DeWees said.

Howard’s nearly 20-member work group will represent police operations and administration staff, union leaders, risk management, public information, training, policy development, the police department’s Citizens Advisory Council and community partners.

There are also representatives from the county’s sheriff and state’s attorney’s offices and the Office of Law and police foundation.

The work group will hold its first meeting this month to make recommendations about operational uses, policy development, equipment, training and vendors for the potential use of drone technology.

There is no timetable for a final report from the work group at this time.

“The research of this new work group will help us explore how to offer Howard County a viable, cost-effective alternative to conventional aircraft to meet our current and future needs,” Howard County Executive Calvin Ball said in a statement.

©2019 Columbia Flier, Md. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.