The Riley County Police Department is rolling out a drone pilot program, pun intended.
This year, the department will determine if it’s worth using unmanned aerial systems and licensed operators for police work.
RCPD director Brad Schoen gave a presentation outlining the department’s plan at the Chamber of Commerce’s Good Morning Manhattan meeting Wednesday.
Currently, the department has two drones. The DJI Inspire 1 V2 is the bigger of the two, weighing 6 pounds. It can fly for up to 18 minutes at a top speed of 50 mph. The drone can also carry up to 3 pounds, enough to drop a cellphone or a life jacket to someone in need. The Inspire also has two cameras — infrared and optical zoom — in addition to the one on the controller. Both cameras can be used at night. It takes two people to run the drone, Schoen said.
The second vehicle, a DJI Mavic Pro, is just larger than a soda can when folded for storage. The Mavic weighs 1.6 pounds, can fly for 27 minutes and tops out at 40 mph. The Mavic also has a lighting system, making it easier to operate at night, a 4K video camera, and it could be used in the field during operations, Schoen said.
The Inspire costs $12,000 and the Mavic costs $1,200. Two employees are licensed to use the drones, and a third has completed training and is expected to be certified soon, RCPD spokeswoman Hali Rowland said. The officers have been trained by K-State Polytechnic in Salina, Schoen said. The department is working to secure a Federal Aviation Administration license.
Schoen said the drones can be used to help with accident reconstruction, crime scene documentation and search and rescue efforts. Recently, Australian officials used a drone to drop life jackets to teenagers who were caught in swells off the Australian coast.
“We don’t have beaches like Australia, obviously. The upside is we don’t have sharks like Australia either,” he said. “We do have a lake and we occasionally have difficulties out on the lake, and this gives us a mechanism to deal with that.”
He said the drones could be used for other purposes, like supporting other agencies, tactical operations and event mapping.
Privacy concerns, working conditions and manpower are all things Schoen said the department will consider while it trains and works with the drones.
“We are aware privacy concerns are something the public is sensitive to, and we’re going to do our best to address them during the course of this year,” he said.
At the end of the year, Schoen said the department will make a decision on whether to continue, expand or eliminate the program based on a report by those working with the drones.