CHESAPEAKE, Va. — Police are using eyes in the sky to try to improve public safety across Hampton Roads.
In the last few years, city officials budgeted for drone technology to help police officers fight crime.
Recently, the Chesapeake Police Department added to its fleet.
“Prior to drone technology, unless you had a helicopter, which we don’t, there was really no way to get that aerial view,” said Master Police Officer Leo Kosinski.
The department’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Team is made up of eight drones of various sizes and 15 officers.
“With the different pieces of equipment, they are kind of mission-specific so to speak,” Kosinski said.
Kosinski said they use drones a lot to analyze crash scenes from the sky and during search and rescue operations.
“The drone can go several hundred feet and has a zoom camera so we can really search a large area with kind of minimal effort from the air,” Kosinski said.
The drones are a force multiplier helping crews cover more ground, faster.
“Some of our drones have the thermal FLIR infrared type technology, so in the colder times we can actually use the drones up high and you could see heat signatures to try to dial it in a bit more for missing persons or missing children,” Kosinski said.
The buzzing technology even helps police officers get messages to victims or suspects with a speaker system attached.
Two months ago, Kosinski said the department purchased two smaller drones to give police the upper hand in critical indoor situations.
“It is specifically designed to be used inside of a building, so if there was any type of large scale incident, mass casualty, mass shooting incident, we have the ability to deploy that within a structure to either assist with searching, crime scene investigation,” Kosinski said.
Police drone operators have rules to follow.
“We can’t just arbitrarily fly the drone up to a private residence and start peering in windows,” Kosinski said. “We have to have cause to do that, which would require us to get a search warrant.”
Kosinski said department leaders are eager to add more drones to their crime-fighting toolbelt.
“This is just another tool in the toolbox that can help serve the public at large,” Kosinski said.
Over the last few years, Congress passed legislation specifically banning federal organizations and forces from buying or using drones made in China.
While that rule hasn’t hit the state or local level in Virginia, the police department said they recently applied for a grant to purchase drones that are not foreign-made as a precaution.