Ohio Law Enforcement Agencies Add Eyes in the Skies with Drones

Law enforcement in several counties across Ohio are looking to use drones in addition to conventional police air support helicopters.

Sargent Steven Poff with the Butler County Sheriff’s Office is both a drone and a helicopter pilot. He told The Ohio Star there are benefits to both types of technology and they utilize both drones and helicopters on a frequent basis in the department.

“There has not been a decrease in helicopter use. You can’t replace the longevity of a helicopter flying or the human eye. There is a time and a place for a drone, but a helicopter is much better,” Poff said.

Poff told The Star that the Butler County Sheriff’s Office currently has seven drones, which they have been utilizing for approximately seven years, and the department just purchased a new, improved drone for the night shift deputy. These drones encompass powerful infrared cameras as well as optical zoom, and nighttime drones have flares attached to them.

The diminutive aircraft can also maneuver in light rain and reasonably adverse weather conditions, and most can carry up to 15 pounds. The drones do not have a very long battery life, however, and though they may be useful to photograph a crime scene, they are not as useful for tracking down suspects, according to Poff.

“A drone would not be up long enough for a long area search. They are battery-operated. It also depends on the weather. The colder it is, the shorter the battery will last; 20 minutes max. On a crash scene that is more than sufficient,” he said.

Drones are small and can easily be stored in the trunk of a patrol car, and can be operated by a deputy to assist in rapid response times for urgent calls. Poff explained that drones are very simple to use and that they take live video. When he finds something he wants to take a picture of, he says, he simply has to push a button.

Drones are utilized frequently in Poff’s department, where he is supervisor of the traffic unit.

“For our department, we recreate crime scenes. We use a 3D scanner along with the footage so there is no reason to have a detective onsite. We are at a minimum of once a week, and that is undershot. These are all serious injuries or fatal crashes,” he said.

Poff told The Star that drones are utilized in very different ways. However, he added, many helicopter pilots in the department have become drone pilots in order to broaden their skill sets.

“They are absolutely beneficial. Like anything else, there is a time and a place for each one of them,” Poff said.

The use of unmanned aircraft is regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration, and drones are required to be registered. Additionally, officers must be trained to both fly the equipment and operate the camera systems.

The use of drones in law enforcement can assist in investigations as well as decrease emergency response times, a factor which could save lives in Ohio.

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Hannah Poling is a lead reporter at The Ohio Star and The Star News Network. Follow Hannah on Twitter @HannahPoling1. Email tips to [email protected]


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