The Elk Grove police started using unmanned aircraft, widely known as “drones,” to help officers.
These devices are each equipped with a video camera that can give the police a bird’s eye view of a site. They can be used to assist officers in their search for criminal suspects or missing persons, and they can be used to help investigate crime scenes and relief efforts in disaster sites, according to a May 22 city staff report.
On Oct. 13, police used a drone to assist officers in finding a driver who reportedly walked away from a vehicle crash site near the corner of Kent Street and Waterman Road. Earlier this month, a drone flew near Lismore and Falcon Meadow drives to help homeless outreach officers locate a possible homeless camp.
Three officers were trained and certified by the Federal Aviation Administration to operate these aircrafts in the police’s Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) program. Police spokesperson Jason Jimenez said that his department recently finished training all of their officers to be observers to help the drone pilots.
“It’s been a good tool to not only keep our officers safe, but also keep the community safe,” he said.
The Cosumnes Fire Department also deploys a drone camera to help firefighters at emergency scenes.
Jimenez stressed that the new aerial technology will only be deployed to help officers. The devices will not be used to patrol neighborhoods for crime.
“You will not see us flying over the city of Elk Grove just for the sake of flying over the city of Elk Grove,” he said.
Jimenez compared the drones to law enforcement helicopters that assist officers in searching a crime scene. He noted that the Elk Grove police receive help from Sacramento police and Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department helicopters, but there are times when those helicopters are not available.
The police’s UAS program will currently be funded by federal asset seizure funds or funds confiscated by federal authorities in criminal cases, according to a city staff report.
Jimenez said that the Elk Grove police staff spent two years researching the technology and how law enforcement agencies use them. He said they learned that agencies that had successful programs were those that held community members and explain what they will do with the technology and what they will not do.
The Elk Grove police invited community members to learn about their UAS program this year and the staff.
“Once we explained the program and demystified the program, a lot pf people started to understand and support the program,” Jimenez said.
Residents who saw police aircraft flying in their neighborhoods can learn why those drones were used by visiting the UAS flight log at the Elk Grove police’s website. Jimenez noted that his staff noticed that other law enforcement agencies did not have flight logs available for public view.
For more information on the UAS program and where the police used drone cameras, visit www.ElkGrovePD.org/community/community_programs/u_a_s_program.