By Jacob Sturm
Fighting crime has taken to the air, with the Canadian County Sheriff’s Office being among many law enforcement agencies involved with drone use in recent years.
That’s thanks to the newer versions of drones that have made quicker deployments possible in typical instances the deputies may need aerial assistance.
Jerry Dougan, Narcotics Investigator and Drone Pilot for the Canadian County Sheriff’s Office, said before the use of drones was possible, the county would deploy helicopters and planes. While that use of planes is still possible, the Sheriff’s Office has been using drones for locating missing children, monitoring large crowds and more.
Part of what makes the drones effective comes from the forward looking infrared (FLIR) tool that picks up heat signatures. The tool is new technology, with FLIR previously being available with some add-ons for the drones the county uses, but now it has been integrated in the drones used by law enforcement.
“Our drone has not just a camera that can zoom for miles, but it has FLIR on it just like a police helicopter has,” Dougan said. “And so, we can launch and cover a large area with FLIR and be able to find things that sometimes you just can’t find on foot or with a flashlight.”
So, what instances can Narcotics Officers use the drones?
To Dougan, that means conducting surveillance from longer distances to identify what is happening without alerting people to what is going on. He mentioned using drones to also help identify marijuana grows in areas where they shouldn’t be.
Soon, more uses will prove to benefit the law enforcement in unique situations.
“One of the things we’re working on right now that we’re close to having is to be able to have that thing in the air, and have anybody that’s on the scene be able to pull it up on their phone and be able to see what that drone sees,” Dougan said.
Canadian County Sheriff Chris West mentioned to the Mustang Times that the drones also serve as a safety mechanism for officers. For instance, drones can help identify if a bad guy is armed or not before deputies and officers are put in harm’s way. It can also help give officer’s more clear ideas of where the bad guy is in instances where flashlights and on-foot officers may not be able.
West mentioned that the sheriff’s office is a part of a multiagency tactical team comprised of the sheriff’s office and the police agencies in Canadian County.
That comes with training requirements to be able to operate drones as part of the sheriff’s office. Dougan mentioned deputies would have to be licensed with the FAA, and have a license to fly. He mentioned law enforcement has different avenues they can take to get there, but even with that being the case, those officers have to take the same test at the end that everyone else does to operate a drone.
“You dang near are a pilot, when you’re done, for a regular plane,” Dougan said. “It’s not easy. There’s a whole lot of knowledge that you have to learn, and you’re tested on every bit of that… Then, law enforcement, we’ve attended some training that has helped us develop as we’re developing for the law enforcement side, and (also) learning the capabilities of what we can and can’t do.”
West said the drone, along with the extra batteries and charging stations, have about a $7,000 cost to the county. West mentioned the Sheriff’s Office has plans to purchase three more drones, and said they currently have some quotes out for the cost.
“Our goal is to have a drone on every shift that we have patrol members out so that if something happens and we need to launch a drone, we don’t have to make a telephone call and wait for somebody to show up,” West said. “Hopefully, we’re going to have that person that’s going to be on (that shift) and they can get in their truck and launch that drone immediately.”