Sher­iff ’s of­fice takes to the air re­motely

Drones take of­fi­cers out of harms way, aid searches

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By JESSI STICKEL jstickel@somd­

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-

mote con­trol.

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.

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