BOSSIER SHERIFF’S OFFICE DEVELOPS DRONE PROGRAM
By Lt. Bill Davis, Public Information Officer

“Finding Lost Children, Searching for Suspects or Helping During Disasters…Having a Birds-Eye View is Invaluable” – Sheriff Whittington

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.”

“In law enforcement, it’s best to have tools available to fit all needs that may arise,” said Lt. Will Cox. “The reason why we have our patrol UAVs is to fill the need to do everything from search and rescue, for people who may have become lost in the woods, to someone who may have become injured while in the woods or in any location.”

After months of research and testing, the Sheriff’s Office acquired a UAV platform that can be utilized in just about any situation.

“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 has been training other deputies over the past month 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 that graduated a few weeks ago as drone operators included Sgt. Darren Kerry, Sgt, Joey Bowen, Dep. John Brunson and Dep. Ryan Buttenob. The second class that graduated March 24 included Deputies Steve Dooley, Kelly Downey, Tommy Burton and Mike Lombardino.

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. While each deputy can serve as either pilot or observer, 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 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.”

(Video by Dep. Rod White, Bossier Sheriff’s Office)

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