Manteca Police are moving toward the day they will be able to deploy an unmanned aerial surveillance craft — a drone — to aid in everything from search and rescue efforts to helping officers have additional eyes in tactical operations involving SWAT deployment.
Detective David Bright — one of three Manteca Police officers that have taken training courses to operate drones that is a prerequisite to taking the required FAA exam — said drones would be employed as another tool to help the MPD protect public safety and not be deployed for general surveillance.
Bright said drones will essentially make it affordable for agencies such as Manteca Police to have the type of air support a helicopter would provide when searching for a missing person or chasing a subject fleeing on foot such as through neighborhoods and across yards.
“There is a lot of misinformation and misunderstandings out there about drones,” Bright, a 15-year MPD veteran, told Manteca Rotarians meeting Thursday at Ernie’s Rendezvous Room.
The two-day course Bright and two other officers took is the same one that FAA requires for those wishing to seek licenses to become commercial drone pilots to shoot aerial photography for purposes such as selling real estate.
Bright noted the FAA requires pilots to maintain visual contact with drones. That coupled with the fact police agencies still have to use the same legal processes required to secure warrants to conduct searches restricts how drones can be deployed.
At the same time Bright noted in public places such as parks where there is no expectation of privacy, police drones would be no different than someone using a single lens reflex camera or a smartphone to record videos or take photos.
Manteca Police anticipate using drones in the same manner other law enforcement agencies that already have them in their repertoire of crime fighting tools — basically for search and rescue and to help officers in situations where a suspect is barricaded in a building to providing intel to help officers determine the safest and best way to proceed.
“You can cover a lot more ground in a search with a drone than having officers walk in a line across a field,” Bright noted.
Bright has been a done hobbyist for a number of years.
When the department gets ready to purchase a drone, he expects the cost to be around $10,000 for the drone that would likely include a camera and other capabilities such as infrared photography and thermal imaging to help find suspects fleeing at night. He noted rechargeable batteries — that tend to cost a tenth of what a drone does — would be needed in a fairly large number as they have enough power for only about 20 minutes of air time and cannot be recharged immediately.
Bright noted Manteca PD secures a drone it will be clearly marked with the world “police” as well as either the department’s badge or logo.
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