Sheriff ’s office takes to the air remotely
Drones take officers out of harms way, aid searches
The Charles County Sheriff’s Office has advanced in technology with two unmanned aircrafts that serve as an overwatch and a safety barrier for the community and officers.
The drones, with an optical camera attached, are capable of providing the agency an aerial overwatch of scenes, which minimizes potential harm to officers. The larger drone, called the Inspire 1, is able to attach a thermal camera, which amplifies heat, and is
displayed to the pilot in different shades of colors.
“What is so great about thermal is that it isn’t dependent upon daylight, but works by converting a heat signature to a viewable image on the pilot’s screen,” Lt. David Kelly said.
Kelly, commander of the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) unit, has been a certified pilot for over 20 years.
Kelly said that the UAS, or drones, are mobile and easy to deploy to critical and dynamic scenes where an aerial vantage point is advantageous to the officers on the scene.
He explained that the drones excel in situations such as mass casualties, fires, missing children and search and rescue.
“These drones add an extra layer of protection for our citizens,” Kelly said.
“They keep our officers safe because we can put the aircraft in harm’s way instead of the officers, and in some cases, our K-9s.”
“[Kelly] is amazing, he put this whole program together,” said Diane Richardson, CCSO public information officer.
“He works full time on his primary responsibilities and was still able to create the policy, have people trained and put it all into motion, along with the help of others within the agency. [Kelly] has a lot to be proud of,” Richardson said.
“We are the first agency in Southern Maryland to use the drone technology,” Kelly said.
“[The drone program] has been in development for over a year. Sheriff [Troy] Berry recognizes the importance of technology and wants the agency to take advantage of any and all technology that could benefit the citizens in how we fulfill the mission of the agency,” he said.
The sheriff’s office worked with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and partnered with ALARIS, a consultant which has developed a program with the county. Five agency officers, including Kelly, went through training and earned their remote pilot certification in order to operate and deploy these drones.
In addition to the five certified CCSO officers, five Department of Emergency Services first responders were also trained as pilots. In addition to providing mutual aid with the sheriff’s office, they can utilize drones during fire and hazmat emergencies, which can feed data back to the pilot without putting first responders in a potentially dangerous situation.
Kelly said that Tony Pucciarella, founder of ALARIS, per their website, “was instrumental in providing guidance, hands-on training and knowledge training as we were going through the certification process.”
He said that, so far, the drones have been used for sobriety check points, search warrants, and search and rescue. The drones were used in a recent manhunt in Nanjemoy, Kelly said.
“They proved their worth on that search,” he said. “The drone was deployed and quickly conducted a preliminary scan of the area, saving critical time.”
He also said that on that particular nighttime search, the sheriff’s office was able to use the thermal camera, or forward looking infrared (FLIR), which enhanced the agency’s abilities to detect potential items of interest.
Drones were also used during a search warrant recently, Kelly said. He explained that the drone gave an overwatch of the area, which was a volatile scene where a person was said to be heavily armed. With the help of the drone, the officers had more intelligence and an idea of what to expect when entering the location.
Kelly said that the FAA creates rules and regulations for unmanned aircraft, which include a maximum height of 400 feet and the requirement that the pilot maintain a visual line of sight of the aircraft.
He also said that the sheriff’s office has to have proper reasoning to fly the drones. “It will not be used for routine patrol,” Kelly said.
Kelly said that Local Government Insurance Trust offered a grant for the training the officers needed in order to operate the drones, and has fostered a safe foundation for our program.
The sheriff’s office owns two drones of different sizes, and both have a remote control, which connects to a fullsized iPad.
Through an application, the cameras on the drones feed a visual back to the iPad in order for the pilot to see a point of view from the drone.
The app displayed on the iPad shows the pilot the current battery life of the drone, how many satellites it is connected with, its current height and speed, and much more.
While demonstrating the use of the drone at the sheriff’s office headquarters, Kelly explained the steps that officers must go through before flying the aircraft.
“There are safety checklists that you have to go through before flying the drone,” Kelly said.
He said he also recommends those who operate drones to utilize an application called B4UFly, which gives information about when pilots can and cannot fly unmanned aircraft, as well as a map of “no fly zones.”
During the demonstration, Kelly was able to steer the drone’s direction, speed and height with the knobs on the re-
The drone also will hover in place if the pilot lets go of the control knobs.
He said that the drone knows when the wind is a factor when flying and will use more power in order to stay in position. If the drone experiences an emergency or loses connectivity from the remote control, it will immediately fly back to the pilot, instead of lowering at its current location.
Kelly set up a mock vehicle crash to demonstrate one of the occasions the sheriff’s office would use the drone.
“We can use the drone to get an aerial perspective of the crash scene, which can aid officers with documenting the evidence they use to determine the cause of the accident,” Kelly said.
He said they can be used for investigation and collection of evidence, such as tire marks on and off roadways, which may be hard to visualize from a traditional point of view on the ground.
Kelly said that the aircraft can be used to the agency’s advantage in many different emergencies and dangerous occasions. They help keep officers out of harm’s way as much as possible, and service the citizens in a whole new way.
“We hope that it saves a life, brings a loved one home, locates a missing child; if it saves one person, it’s worth it,” Kelly said.
Charles County Sheriff’s Office Lt. David Kelly flies a drone over a mock vehicle crash. The drone can be used to collect evidence, such as tire marks on and off roadways, which may be hard to visualize from a normal point of view.
Above left, the NAME drone, which is the larger drone that the sheriff’s office owns, is capable of attaching a thermal camera for search and rescue. Above right, the BLANK drone is the smaller drone the sheriff’s office owns.