By Pat Culverhouse
One more technological step will have city police officers looking down on the streets of Minden or inside a structure from the outside, and those tech-tools are designed to enhance safety for both officers and the public.
A pair of drones has been added to the MPD’s equipment arsenal and Chief Jared McIver calls the addition “…another resource for the department that will not encroach on anyone’s privacy but will be a big factor in safety for our officers.”
McIver said a local homicide case first led him to consider the potential of drones as an important resource to the department.
“When we were involved in the (Daniel) Merritt homicide, we learned some agencies take drones up to scan areas for evidence and court purposes,” he said. “It get’s a bird’s eye view of the entire area and enhances a site investigation.”
McIver said he considered what a tremendous resource was available with drones and trained operators in cases of foot pursuits or traffic pursuits in the city, and even in cases of missing persons. Funds for the two drones were found in a variety of sources including money raised to equip the department’s Special Response Team (SRT).
Det. Sgt. Jason Smith, head of the MPD’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID), is one of the officers who trained for license and FAA certification to operate the department’s new air arm.
“We have two units: one large drone for overhead surveillance and a smaller unit for use indoors to help keep officers safe if they’re entering a high risk situation,” he said. “We can send the indoor unit into an attic or any room inside a house or building to search for the suspect without having to put an officer at risk of the unknown.”
Smith said the department has had the drones just over a month and the larger surveillance unit has already been put to use in a stolen property case.
“We were looking at a piece of property where stolen vehicles were allegedly located, and we obtained a search warrant for remote view via drone,” he explained. “We were able to find vehicles that were not visible from the street because of woods and a fence. We’ll be able to obtain a ground search warrant because of the evidence gathered from the drone, and it was minimally invasive.”
Both McIver and Smith said the resolution from drone cameras allows for a crisp panoramic view or a high resolution close-up that helps with identification. And while several options are available, there’s one feature both men agree will be a major benefit to officer safety.
“We have thermal imagery that allows us to see a heat signature,” McIver said. “If we have a foot pursuit where perhaps there’s a K9 and handler going through a wooded area, we can deploy the drone and help track the suspect. That suspect, or more than one, might be armed and this drone could prevent an ambush situation. It’s an officer safety tool that we can also use at night or in dark rooms.”
Smith said the surveillance drone, by design, makes little sound but that’s not the case with the smaller unit.
“With the surveillance drone, the suspect might not realize we’re there because of ambient noise. But the smaller unit is pretty noisy, and that’s a good thing because the sound would help mask an entry team coming inside,” Smith said.
“We’re very excited about the new technology,” McIver said. “This gives us the ability to do more to protect the people of our city and the officers who are on the line. We plan to continue upgrading our equipment and our training programs. We want to keep looking ahead.”