New Dauphin County drone giving law enforcement a protective eye in the sky
HARRISBURG, PA (August 16, 2018) – Before a barricaded man in May surrendered to police without incident, police used Dauphin County’s drone to verify he had thrown at least one pistol in his yard along with ammunition.
Later that month, when a 3-year-old girl was swept away after her father’s boat overturned after coming too close to Harrisburg’s Dock Street Dam, the drone took to the skies to help search the Susquehanna River.
And in July after a motorcyclist fleeing police collided with a car at a Harrisburg intersection, the drone again took to the skies and, using a thermal imaging camera, helped officers investigate the accident and pinpoint debris.
“Many times, police are in situations where having an aerial view gives them critical tactical information that you just can’t get on the ground,’’ said board Chairman Jeff Haste. “Our drone can be on the scene quickly and provide valuable assistance.’’
Use of the drone is coordinated through the Dauphin County Criminal Investigation Division and purchased through a $16,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) and a $5,000 grant from the National Rifle Association (NRA). The funds covered the approximately $15,000 cost of the six-propeller DJI Matrice 600 Pro drone, additional GPS and cameras (including thermal imaging) and FAA-required pilot training.
"The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency is a longtime supporter of innovative policing solutions that enhance public safety and protect officers," PCCD Chairman Charles Ramsey said. "Dauphin County's unmanned aerial vehicle project is an excellent example of this type of solution, and should result in quicker response times for a variety of situations."
Flying the drone is Don Trovy, a county probation officer and a remote-plane hobbyist who has flown various radio-controlled craft for 20 years. Additional pilots are being trained, and the county is in the process of getting a second, smaller drone that can be used for training as well as responding to incidents.
“Drones can be used to help assess storm damage, locate missing hikers, as well as the kind of law enforcement support our drone has already provided,’’ said Commissioner Mike Pries, who oversees the county’s Public Safety Department.
Drones can play a crucial role in larger emergencies, which is why they are being acquired by all the counties that make up South Central Task Force. In addition to Dauphin, other counties in the task force include Adams, Cumberland, Franklin, Lancaster, Lebanon, Perry and York.
Dauphin County’s drone has three separate GPS devices to ensure it remains fixed on its intended path and can fly for almost a half hour before its batteries need to be swapped out with a fresh set.
“We want to assure the public that the drone is operated under strict guidelines and used for the public’s benefit,’’ said Commissioner George P. Hartwick, III. “It’s technology that will help keep our residents safer.’’
To date, the drone has assisted law enforcement with 13 investigations.
“Having a drone helps with securing an active scene and protecting the lives of police officers and the general public,” said Dauphin County District Attorney Francis T. Chardo. “Our drone has already proven to be a valuable tool for law enforcement, and we thank PCCD and the NRA for providing funding for it.”
Dauphin County’s drone operation policy:
Dauphin County follows FAA commercial regulations for commercial drone use, which include notifying airports close to the flight area, only flying it in line-of-sight and notifying the FAA before every mission, using the drone’s registration number.
The county’s operators also log at least four hours of training every 60 days to maintain their FAA license, do a safety check of every area in which they fly, ensure the drone’s software is updated and check with SkyVector.com to make sure there are no flight restrictions in their area of operation.
Safe drone flying tips:
While federal regulations for non-commercial, civilian operators are not as stringent, FAA regulations under the Special Rule for Model Aircraft require the following:
- Fly for hobby or recreation ONLY
- Register your model aircraft
- Fly within visual line-of-sight
- Follow community-based safety guidelines and fly within the programming of a
- nationwide community-based organization
- Fly a drone under 55 lbs. unless certified by a community-based organization
- Never fly near other aircraft
- Notify the airport and air traffic control tower prior to flying within 5 miles of an
- Never fly near emergency response efforts
*The person flying the model aircraft is responsible for contacting the airport directly. Many phone numbers for airports are available here:
For more information, go to https://www.faa.gov/uas/getting_started/model_aircraft/