Although drone purchases by law enforcement are skyrocketing, many police agencies can’t afford to sink thousands of dollars in UAV gear and training.
Thanks to a recent FAA authorization, cash-strapped police departments now have a budget-friendly choice. The federal agency approved a plan this past month to unleash the Northeast Region Unmanned Aircraft System unit in Grand Forks, N.D. on an as-needed basis to any domestic law enforcement agency.
Grand Forks has been a flash-point region for both drone testing and police deployment. In 2014, the Grand Forks police department became one of the first law-enforcement agencies to use a drone in an operation, launching a UAV to locate four underage men who fled the scene after a drunk-driving traffic stop.
That same year, the Northern Plains UAS Test Site in Grand Forks began the first official FAA UAV research operation with a maiden voyage of a DraganFlyer X4-ES, and a multispectral imaging system from Tetracam to collect data on soil quality and crop health.
“If there was a major disaster or a multi-day search for dangerous suspects like that, my guess is that the sheriff would approve that,” Grand Forks chief pilot Alan Frazier told the Associated Press, adding that the “agency’s pilots and sensor operators are able and willing to hop on a plane with its drone in a suitcase.”
The Grand Forks unit has responded to 27 calls within the last three years from search and rescue to four murder cases. While the scope of the unit’s operations has been limited to 17 counties in North Dakota and one in Minnesota, the new approval will mean a kind of drone-on-demand option for any public-safety agency in the States.
Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International board member Ben Miller is optimistic about the program’s potential, telling the AP that “Grand Forks [leads] the country in the use of UAVs in law enforcement [and] has done some fantastic things. I know those guys. I’ve trained those guys.”
Jason is a longstanding contributor to DroneLife with an avid interest in all things tech. He focuses on anti-drone technologies and the public safety sector; police, fire, and search and rescue.
Beginning his career as a journalist in 1996, Jason has since written and edited thousands of engaging news articles, blog posts, press releases and online content.
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