Officers with the Midlothian Police Department presented how first responders are using drones and the need for volunteers Tuesday morning.
Sgt. Clay Regan, Midlothian Police Unmanned Aerial Vehicle coordinator, described how the department can use the airborne devices.
Some of the uses he described included emergency responses, clearing for active shooters and crime scene documentation.
“We don’t know what they can’t do,” Regan explained.
The UAVs in times of emergency can be used to transport items to those in need. For instance, Regan explained that officers can attach medicine or life vests to the UAVs and fly them to people who need them.
UAVs can hold up three to seven pounds depending on the size of the drone, he noted.
“The capabilities of these are just phenomenal,” he added.
And the capabilities don’t end there. The drones can have cameras attached to them which can take photos, videos and thermal images. These images can be used for crime scene and accident investigations because they can be zoomed in significantly, Regan said.
The drones with cameras can be used indoors as well, he noted. They can be used to lead officers through hallways and check for danger before the officers get there.
Outside, thermal imaging is useful when it comes to night search and rescue efforts and helping firefighters fight fires effectively.
Earlier this year, Gerdau donated a $14,000 drone to the Midlothian Fire Department.
The two departments train separately but use common language, so if needed, they can come together and help one another, Regan said.
Training is necessary for staying sharp on UAV practices because they are constantly evolving, Sgt. Cody McKinney said.
“If you don't use it, you will lose it,” he noted.
The police department drones are almost five years old, and they are nearly outdated, Regan said.
“The batteries are a mission killer,” he noted.
The current drone models use batteries that are not manufactured as much if at all, and the batteries they do have are old and malfunction, he said.
“These things are the past,” Regan said as he motioned to current department UAV.
He said he hopes the department gets new drones in the near future, but they can be costly. Most of the cost doesn’t go to the drone, either. Instead, the costs are related to the high-tech cameras on them, he noted.
Plus, the newer models fly anywhere from 30-45 minutes opposed to the 20-30 minutes of its older counterparts, he said.
For the meantime, they are going to keep using their current drones until donations or grants come into play.
While not everyone can fly drones for the department, there are other ways citizens can help the local police.
Department volunteer coordinator Larry Atchley said there are two instances where citizens can apply to volunteer. The sign up for fall has opened.
Volunteers for the policing program show up at events and help set up as well as usher people, he said.
When applying, citizens must comply with a background check before being entered into the citizens' academy.
“[Background checks] make sure you are who you say you are,” Atchley said.
The department now has a vehicle for citizens on patrol to watch for suspicious activity and alert the authorities.
Citizens on patrol can’t put people over or issue citations.
“[Citizens on patrol] are there to be additional eyes and ears in our communities,” Atchley said.
To volunteer and be a part of the Citizens Police Academy contact Scott Hughes for more information at Curtis.firstname.lastname@example.org or 972-775-7633.
Samantha Douty, @SamanthaDouty