By Lt. Bill Davis, Public Information Officer
Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office
“Finding Lost Children, Searching for Suspects or Helping During Disasters…Having a Birds-Eye View is Invaluable” – Bossier Sheriff Julian Whittington
When an EF2 tornado ripped through the outskirts of Plain Dealing in northwest Louisiana in January 2017, a Bossier Sheriff’s Office deputy deployed a drone to survey the damage from the air in order to best help residents, even aiding in providing the National Weather Service information on the tornado’s impact and path. Drone video of that tornado damage HERE. https://youtu.be/YKWBxAOxuo4.
In March 2017, when three teenage runaways were hiding in the woods at nighttime off of Highway 80 in Princeton in the eastern part of the parish, a Bossier deputy deployed a drone using thermal imaging, and within a minute of launch, he located the three teens. Drone video of locating teens in the woods HERE.
The use of drones, known as unmanned aerial vehicles or systems (UAVs/UASs), are providing an invaluable tool for law enforcement, technology that Bossier Sheriff Julian Whittington has embraced because of its impact on public safety.
“Having these drones is a priority,” said Sheriff Whittington. “When we have the ability to launch a drone and quickly survey damage from a natural disaster or immediately locate people like we did with those teens hiding in the woods at night, that’s a success. Our next case might be finding a lost child, looking for an elderly person who has wandered off, or searching for an armed robbery suspect. It’s our commitment to public safety, and having deputies properly trained with these drones to quickly respond to such a need at any time is crucial.”
A couple of years ago, Lt. Will Cox approached Sheriff Whittington about developing the UAS program for the Bossier Sheriff’s Office. During the historic flooding of 2015 and 2016 in Bossier Parish, the Sheriff’s Office relied on aircraft, both rotary and fixed wing, to provide aerial support for photos, videos and observation. Such assets can become quite expensive, and their availability might be an hour or more away…if they are even available at all. Some individuals were using their personal drones to provide aerial support, but the Sheriff’s Office did not have a fully-functioning UAS program that could be deployed at any time in just about any situation. That was about to change.
“In law enforcement, it’s best to have tools available to fit all needs that may arise,” said Lt. Cox. “The reason why we have our patrol UAVs is to fill the need to do everything from search and rescue, for child who may have become lost or an injured hunter, to searching for suspect on the run.”
After months of research and testing, the Sheriff’s Office acquired a UAV platform that can be utilized in just about any situation. Watch a story about the “Drone Patrol.” – HERE
“We have all multi-rotor aircraft,” said Lt. Cox, which includes two DJI Matrice 100 models, two DJI Inspire 1 models, and a DJI Phantom 3 Advanced used primarily as a training drone. “We have color zoom cameras and thermal cameras on board, so that way we can detect not only color images but also find sources of heat. Having these tools to be able to benefit the department, benefit the parish, is an outstanding edition.”
Lt. Cox and Capt. Donnie Keith, who has been a private pilot since 1977, attended UAS School to become UAS pilots. They then developed their own UAS training program for the Sheriff’s Office, which is approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, to train other deputies. Additionally, the Sheriff’s Office has approval by the FAA to operate drones at nighttime.
“The goal is to move in, to be able to build an air corps of officers that are able to share responsibilities for assignments, and to respond daytime, nighttime, whenever the occasion might arise,” said Lt. Cox.
The duo began training other deputies in February 2017 to serve on “Drone Patrol.” The training consists of a week-long curriculum of ground and flight school, written exam, and
concludes with a variety of real-life training scenarios as their final flight exams. The first class graduated in February, and the second class just completed its training on March 24. Watch some of the training HERE.
The entire Bossier Sheriff’s Office UAS team consists of 10 deputies who have each been trained as both pilots and observers who can be called out at any time, 24-hours a day. Each deputy can serve as either pilot or observer, and when in a deployed situation, one deputy will operate the drone, and the other deputy will ensure proper clearance for safe operation. Some of those situations might involve deploying a drone in order to keep deputies and the public safe during a highly volatile situation.
One such scenario used in training was for the deputies to fly the drone just near a vehicle in order to assess a dangerous situation. “In a hazardous location not risking a deputy’s life, we can send a drone up to the vehicle to try to see what’s in the car,” said Capt. Keith. “And as you can see, there’s a weapon on the seat, there’s a weapon in his hand, and you can also fly around, and you can take a picture of his face and identify him. And we can video everything while it’s being done and take still pictures while the drone is flying.”
The deputies also trained to understand the travel distance and battery usage of the drones, flying in inclement weather, and to ensure they operate the drones in a responsible and professional manner.
“We’re not looking into people’s windows,” Lt. Cox emphasized. “We’re not trying to videotape your poolside behavior. Our mission is to provide safety, and now it’s safety from above.”
The Bossier Sheriff’s Office is also working to be able to assist other parishes and jurisdictions with the deployment of their UAVs as they have need.
“We’ve had calls from three other Sheriff’s Offices here in Louisiana who have inquired about our UAV program and training their deputies,” said Capt. Keith. “We even received an e-mail from a police agency in Queensland, Australia, inquiring about our UAV program.”
For Sheriff Whittington, it’s all about public safety.
“From finding lost children in the woods or seniors with dementia who’ve wandered off, to locating criminals on the run, to providing a bird’s eye view during floods or other disasters, these unmanned aerial systems are an invaluable public safety resource,” said Sheriff
Whittington. “It’s another tool in our toolbox, and quite frankly, when it comes to the use of technology to help people, the sky’s the limit.”
“The quicker we can get to help someone who is in trouble or to apprehend a criminal, it is well worth it,” said Capt. Keith. “Use of drones saves time, money, manpower and is the most cost-effective means to put our eyes in the sky.”
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Lt. Bill Davis, Public Information Officer