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Eye in the Sky with Louisiana Sheriff Office
Eye in the Sky with Louisiana Sheriff Office

Police and first responder units across the globe have a mandate to seek new ways to cut costs and increase productivity while still maintaining premium-level service. Often, exploring new technologies plays a pivotal role in fulfilling this goal. At the Bossier Sheriff’s Office in Louisiana, an initiative spearheaded by Sheriff Julian Whittington has led to the development of an innovative drone program.  

GROWING FLEET

There are now five aircraft in the office’s fleet: Two DJI Matrice 100, two DJI Inspire 1, and a DJI Phantom 3 Advanced. The Phantom is used primarily for training.

The team has developed its own training program approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, which governs US airspace. The team also has special permission to fly at night.

“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.

A DJI Matrice 100; part of the tool kit being used by the Sheriff's office
A FLIR-equipped DJI Matrice 100; part of the tool kit being used by the Sheriff’s office

“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 10-person team garnered significant publicity recently when they had success using their DJI aircraft on a mission.

On March 8th, 2017, the drone team assisted in a search for three male teens who had run away from Camp Minden’s Youth Challenge Program.

As it was nighttime, a ground search in the wooded area was deemed to be too difficult. A deputy launched a Matrice with a Zenmuse XT thermal-imaging camera attached and found them almost immediately.

Deploying drones has put an end to the long wait endured when a helicopter is requested. Deputy William Cox, one of the drone team, explained:

“They’re an hour away if they’re in Alexandria. If they’re coming from Baton Rouge, it’s even farther,” adding: “The average flight cost for a helicopter is anywhere between $1,500 and $5,000 an hour, depending on what resources that you’re using.”

The wins for the team and the local community are numerous and Sheriff Whittington has no regrets about his investment in drones.

“Having these drones is a priority 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….

“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.”

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