By Aarron Fleming
The Germantown Police Department will be officially starting a new drone squad after its request for funding passed at Monday’s board of mayor and alderman meeting.
GPD will share the drones with the fire department to aid them in their usual emergency response as well as in search and rescue operations.
Four drones, ranging in size from small to medium to large, as well as several accessories, will be purchased and used for different kinds of situations, most of which involve locating people, whether it be missing persons or dangerous suspects.
“We’re one of the last agencies in the area to get them, so we just kind of laid back and watched and learned and it looks like it’s going to be an easy solution,” Bryan Wallace, lieutenant with GPD, said.
The largest drone, a DJI Matrice M300, comes with a high zoom camera and FLIR capabilities.
FLIR is a company that specializes in thermal-imaging camera and sensor design.
The FLIR camera on the drone will allow GPD to see people when flying the drone at night.
One of the main purposes that the large drone will serve will be to help find missing or endangered people faster, Wallace said.
Wallace alluded to a recent incident where Germantown police officers had to comb a wooded area for an escaped hospital patient that had several medical issues.
He said that locating the patient went a lot slower than they would’ve liked.
“That big drone would’ve really helped us quickly,” he said.
The two medium sized drones, both DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Advanced models, also have FLIR capabilities.
Wallace said that they will be primarily used on patrol with GPD because they are smaller than the M300 and can fit into the front seat of a squad car.
The smallest drone, a DJI Mavic Air 2, is primarily going to be used by the SWAT Team, he said.
He explained that the team will use the drone inside buildings to locate suspects that are potentially armed and dangerous.
Wallace declined to comment on specifically how often situations like this occur.
He did, however, say that it happens every now and then.
“If the equipment is available to protect them and us, that’s what we want,” he said.
GPD is also purchasing accessories for the drones that include a loudspeaker and a spotlight.
Wallace said that the drone team can use the speaker to give commands to suspects remotely.
“We can give them orders to put their hands up or lie on the ground,” he said, “it just provides the safest environment for everybody.”
Wallace also said that he spoke with the fire department who stated that it will use the loudspeaker to communicate with people they are trying to rescue.
“We can fly it over to them in minutes,” he said, “and be able to communicate with them. Stay still, we’re going to get you somebody as quickly as we can.”
Wallace said that the spotlight will be used to help them see when flying inside buildings, which sometimes don’t have the lights on.
The start of a new drone team in Germantown comes on the heels of its neighboring suburbs, which already have their own drone teams.
Collierville, for example, started its team last October.
At its meeting on Oct. 26, 2020, the town’s board of mayor and alderman approved the use of CARES Act funds to purchase two drones for its police department.
The total cost of that department’s request, however, was a lot smaller than Germantown’s.
In its request that was approved Monday, GPD asked for a total of $57,000 for its new drones.
That’s $25,000 more than the $32,000 that the Collierville Police Department asked for.
GPD’s request was so much higher because it’s purchasing twice as many drones as well as additional accessories, like the spotlight and loudspeaker, which CPD didn’t buy.
After the drones are purchased, the team will undergo training to get certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Wallace said.
He said that the team will seek two types of certifications:
Part 107 Remote Pilot Certifications for every officer on the team and a Certificate of Authorization (COA) for the police department.
The individual, remote pilot certifications are the standard license from the FAA for commercial drone use.
The COA is another type of license for specific types of drone activities.
They are, however, typically reserved for organizational bodies like government agencies, universities, and police departments like GPD.
Wallace said he hopes to get the drones off the ground by late fall this year, after all the training is complete.
“Until we’ve got all our ducks in a row,” he said, “we’re going to hold off.”