Canal Fulton police utilize drone for officer safety
Jun 1, 2019 at 6:02 AM
Police will use a recently purchased drone during foot pursuits, hostage scenarios and traffic crashes, among other incidents.
CANAL FULTON Officers using flashlights during a search in a wooded area make themselves visible targets for someone hiding in the dark with a gun.
The officers can't see a suspect hiding in thick brush with a weapon, putting them at a disadvantage.
With the use of a drone, the department could have pinpointed the perpetrator's location before entering the woods.
"That's risking your life when we could have put a drone up in the area to search for (someone) that way," Canal Fulton Police Chief Douglas Swartz said. "There's lots of applications for use."
The Police Department purchased a DJI Mavic dual drone in April to be used in traffic crashes, foot pursuits, active shooter scenarios, and other investigations. Before the drone can be put into service, Swartz will need to obtain his piloting license.
The drone is equipped with numerous features including infrared imaging, a one-way radio communication system, LED lights and video recording. It was purchased used for $3,500 with the help of Buckeye Drone, owned by Cliff Franks.
"This drone can be utilized and deployed into fields where officer safety could be compromised," Swartz said. "It's kind of different than your average drone. This has … some custom features that we can utilize for law enforcement."
Drone use in Stark County
After an 8-hour course, hours of study time and a certification exam, Capt. Jim Davis of the North Canton Fire Department received his drone piloting license in March. He is one of two firefighters in the department with a license. A third is working on certification.
To use the drone for a commercial purpose — meaning it is used in a work setting — a person must obtain a Part 107 drone license from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Davis took the exam at the Aeronautics and Technology Building at Kent State University's main campus Feb. 1. On average, it takes roughly six weeks to receive the pilot license in the mail, Davis said.
North Canton Fire Department got its first drone at least six years ago, Fire Chief John Bacon said.
The first drone was donated, he said. It was grounded for a year once the FAA began regulating drone use.
Now, with two firefighters licensed, the department has two drones after Bacon "saw potential" in the small, unmanned aircrafts, he said.
The Fire Department has the same model drone as the Canal Fulton Police Department and a second drone that can be used to track a person during a foot pursuit, Davis said. The second drone can be locked on a target and can follow that target, allowing law enforcement or first responders to track movement, he explained.
The drone was used during the investigation of an early morning April 23 fire to take aerial footage of the damage, Davis said. A fire spread from a backyard firepit to a Sheraton Drive NW home.
The drone has not been used in an active fire, Davis said.
Pre-planning is another area where the drone has been useful, Bacon said.
Aerial shots of large North Canton buildings such as Walsh University, the Hoover complex and Giant Eagle can show firefighters locations of heating units or where there is roof access. This can be embedded into a pre-plan if one of those buildings were to catch fire.
Canal Fulton city officials backed the department's decision to purchase the done.
Mayor Joe Schultz said the drone can help keep officers safe and allow them "to analyze a situation from a distance."
When someone's location cannot be pinned down — whether they're on the Towpath Trail, along the Tuscarawas River or in a wooded area — the drone can be deployed to save resources and manpower, Schultz said.
"I was excited about the drone," Schultz said. "Sometimes there's no way to analyze what (police) are up against. The drone would be so valuable in those situations."
Schultz works closely with Swartz and the Police Department to stay up-to-date on crime in the city, Schultz said. When an event happens, officials look at ways the situation could have been improved or tools and resources that would have helped.
Schultz recalled the deaths by suicide of two Northwest High School students last year. In February 2018, officers were called to check on two girls in a wooded area near Portage Road. The infrared imaging on the drone could have been used to locate the girls in the dark.
"We try to followup and have a conversation afterward to figure out what we can do moving forward to help better the situation … if it happened again," he said. "The drone, we think, would be really helpful in moving forward."
According to the Police Department's new policy, the drone "may be utilized to enhance the department's mission of protecting lives and property when other means and resources are not available or are less effective."
The drone cannot be used for random surveillance activities, to target a person or for personal business, according to the police.
Swartz expects to have his piloting license by the end of summer.
"We're happy to get it going," Swartz said. "It's all about officer safety, helping us keep us safe — just another tool in the toolbox that we can use."
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