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Canadian County Sheriff’s Office takes crime fighting to new heights

The Canadian County Sheriff’s Office plans to purchase more drones to use, with the goal of having a drone operator on each of the shifts in case a need arises. (Photo provided)

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

West also mentioned the Sheriff’s Office has identified another deputy who is interested in the
work related to the drones, and that the deputy has been working toward a private pilot’s
license. West mentioned that the deputy will be sent to get the certification before coming
back and hopefully tutoring the next few deputies the Sheriff’s Office is planning to send.

In the past, that would need to be done by an observer who conducts the tests near the airport
in Oklahoma City, whereas now there are more places where the training can take place.
All of that process is planned to be in the works over the next two-to-three months. In the
grand scheme of things, West said the Sheriff’s Office will be looking to buy three more drones
worth $21,000 in total.

“We don’t spend any tax payer budgeted dollars for our aircraft, our airplane or for the
purchase of these drones,” West said. “They’re all going to be purchased… with what we call
Sheriff’s Fees Accounts that come from a number of different places. Warrant services,
commissions through our jail, money that we seize from drug operations. We’re able to take
those dollars and put them into buying this equipment that benefits us to the next level without
getting into the tax payer ad valorem tax budgeted money.”

Even with the functions of these drones, there are things the sheriff’s office cannot do due to
privacy concerns. For instance, Dougan mentioned zooming in on windows as something they
cannot do.

“It’s not a free for all, especially not for law enforcement,” Dougan said. “There’s requirements
behind that… In a public area, we’re going to record and do what we need to do, but just like
anyone else, you can’t start using those lenses and start looking in windows and things.”

Warrants are required for many aspects of drone use, including using the drone to identify heat
on a house and more.

“When we do warrants, a lot of times we’ll do pre-surveillance on it, or at least see what we’re
up against,” Dougan said. “I’ve launched in areas that are neighborhoods, and public perception
has been great. People love the idea that the Sheriff’s Office has something like that… I’ve
never had someone say ‘you shouldn’t do that’ and of course we can’t talk to them about what
we’re doing, but the fact that they know that we have a drone and the capabilities (of it) …
Perception has been really good. I’m sure there’s some folks out there that wouldn’t like it (but)
I haven’t run into them yet.”

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