The Air Support Unit of the Fort Wayne Police Department has flown drones 100 times and is now ready to start the Drone as First Responder Program.
Since 2017, the unit has made significant strides in its Drone Technology, evolving from non-zooming, non-thermal cameras to a drone with cameras that allow the Air Support Unit to assess situations before First Responders arrive on the scene.
The program's DJI Matrice 300 drone is currently stationed on top of the Three Rivers Apartment Complex but is planned to expand to three other locations, including Lutheran Downtown Hospital, Parkview Hospital Randallia, and Glenbrook Square, as the weather warms up.
The Drones as First Responders program
The Drones as First Responders program will help officers determine whether a call can be ignored or no dispatch is needed. In the first 100 drone flights, the unmanned aircraft was first on the scene 72% of the time.
The DJI Matrice 300 of M300, arrived an average of 2.1 minutes before officers, and spent an average of 10.7 minutes at the scene.
“It's just exciting to see where we've gotten to and, you know, as the future progresses, we want to we want to have a seven-day-a-week, daytime operation as weather allows. Then we want to move on towards having more locations and being able to cover more areas of the city,” Rowland said. “All that takes time, money resources and manpower; manpower is always a big thing as well.”
Eleven officers are currently learning how to fly drones professionally both full-time and part-time.
Officer Matt Rowland, who works full-time for the Air Support Unit, believes that there are no limits to what the drones can do and that they will help save lives.
Despite the unit's success, the Federal Aviation Administration rules stipulate that the drone must have someone physically present at its take-off spot to monitor the area for possible issues.
Going forward, the department hopes to see that aspect of the guidelines changed to allow further development of the Drone as a First Responder program.
One officer is posted at the drone's take-off point, while another is in the Emergency Operations Center listening to 911 calls and watching the drone's cameras.
The drone does not conduct random surveillance but is used only as needed. Rowland said the department plans to keep the public informed about the program to eliminate people's concerns.
He emphasized that the unit is not conducting random surveillance and responding only to calls for service, and the drone does not store footage of anything unless the operator believes it might later be needed for evidence.
Rowland shared an example of the program's success when the unit was able to help a woman whose purse was stolen downtown.
Officers manning the drone were able to locate the pair and apprehend the suspect, ultimately keeping the woman from continuing to chase the man and putting herself in harm's way.
As the future progresses, the department plans to have a seven-day-a-week, daytime operation as weather allows and to cover more city areas with more drone locations.
In the comments below, let us know what you think about the Drones as a First Responders program.
Photo credit: Corryn Brock / The Journal Gazette
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