Here are the questions we get asked most by law enforcement agencies when considering a drone department, answered by Officer Trevino of the Boerne Police Department.
Are they too expensive for us?
"I feel utilizing a sUAV system has actually saved us money. As a smaller department, we don't have the budget for a flight program. Having a fleet of small drones has enabled us to have an eye in the sky in a matter minutes, rather than having to rely on an outside agency for a helicopter or other aerial support."
Do they actually help other departments perform their duty in a safer manner?
"The ability to quickly deploy a sUAV during critical moments helps protect the lives of our officers and our citizens. We also aided our local fire department by locating hot spots during structure fires utilizing our FLIR system."
What are the benefits of having a drone department?
"We have used our drones for various assignments throughout the year; monitoring traffic patterns and congestion, accident reconstruction for majors and fatalities, traffic violations, security flights during city functions (parades and fairs), and search and rescue."
I am already short-staffed, how would I make drone department work?
"Typically, for law enforcement your drone operation would only require one person to pilot and maintain the drone(s). In our department, I was selected to pilot the drone due to previous flight experience. Over time, I trained other officers to fly our drones. We now have 2 certified remote pilots, giving access to a pilot at any time of the day."
Our citizens are worried about us spying on them.
"We have been very public about the usage of our drones in our community and have invited members of the press for demonstrations and for Q&A's. We have also put on public displays at schools, citizens' police academies and community police events. We have found being as transparent as possible has eased any concerns the community had. We have found the word "drone" had a negative association with the first generation drones used by the military. By using the term "sUAV" we have removed ourselves from any negative association. Education is key and keeping the public informed in vital."
Are they difficult to use?
"Most drones have stabilizing features that will keep the drone hovering and level at all times. A "return-to-home" function come with most sUAV's. The controls are very forgiving and most people with no remote flight experience can learn the basics within a few flights. The DJI system we have also has beginner mode, which can be enabled to help pilots get into the air."
Other departments have told us the maintenance and training is too much to deal with.
"Maintenance is absolutely minimal. The aircraft itself only requires visual inspections before and after flights. Aside from the occasional software update and battery charging, the systems are very low maintenance. Propellers need to be changed on rare occasions costing only a few dollars each. Training is also a minimal cost. Most training books can be purchased for less than $20 and the Part 107 remote pilots test is $150 per pilot and is valid for 2 years."
We can’t have a program until we have a Standard Operating Procedure, what needs to be included in that?
"In the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) you need to include the Chain of Command, Training Requirements to include maintaining proficiency, Licensing, maintenance program/ schedule. You need to have the Chain of Command outlined in a way that details who has the ‘Go’ ’No Go’ authority"