Police to use drones for air support

The Glendale Police Department is providing its officers and residents with an added layer of protection with air support from drones for dispatch work. 

“We’ve always had a need for air support,” said Colby Brant, Glendale Police Department’s assistant chief. “The only issue for us is that we don’t have a helicopter.” 

The police department partnered with Vector Solutions, which provides its materials and training.

As for traffic collisions, drones are equipped with precision measuring/mapping software along with the ability to obtain photographs from the air. All of this helps the investigator during the reconstruction process, Brant said.

“In some cases, it’s dropping our time on scene, about half,” Brant said. “It gets people moving back on the roadways a lot quicker.”

The other benefit to having these drones is they come in handy when trying to find a specific person. 

“A couple of weeks ago, we had two suspects inside a large industrial yard. We knew we had them contained within the four walls, but it was a large space.” Brant said. By having a drone on hand, the police were able to get a “bird’s-eye view” and were able to search with a deliberate plan instead of searching for a needle in a haystack. The drones are also useful at night. “You’d be able to see the heat signature and be able to find people who don’t necessarily want to be found,” Brant said.

This drone program is not new for the Glendale Police Department. “When you take a look at the research, the training and all that goes into developing the program, we’ve really been working on that for about two years,” Brant said. 

While the police department has been working on this new program for two years, it only started the training phase three months ago. 

The Glendale police decided to learn about the drone programs from other neighboring police departments.

“The chief and I had an opportunity to travel to another city, Chula Vista, California,” Brant said. “They are probably one of the leading law enforcement agencies as far as drones are considered.”

The police chief, Chris Briggs, and Brant went to Chula Vista to learn about their program and bring it back to Glendale. 

When Briggs and Brant asked the department about it, they saw a lot of interest and excitement — particularly from the older generation. “I thought the younger folks would be interested in it, but it’s been quite the opposite,” Brant said. 

While operating a drone for an investigative crime scene is much different then operating a drone recreationally, many of the officers have experience working with the aircraft as a hobby. 

“So far it’s been very exciting,” Brant said. “In fact, I think as we bring in new technology, we often get people wanting to just jump all over it and they’re asking for any chance that they can get (to work with it).”

The police have 14 drones, 10 of which are smaller and less expensive. “We bought several of those small drones so that if we were to have a training environment, they’re testing things,” Brant said. 

Brant predicted residents would worry about an invasion of privacy. He said there’s no need to be concerned.

“We’ve developed everything from the policies associated with this, all the way up to what we’re buying and how we’re using them out in the field,” Brant said. “This wasn’t something that we developed or did secretly or privately. We wanted it to be and we’ll continue to be very transparent with the process.”

To be transparent, Glendale police added a page to its website that covers the drone program. This page will go into detail about the program policies and show exactly where the drones fly. 

“The public can see where a drone was flying so that there isn’t that perception that we’re out there doing some sort of random surveillance, because that is absolutely not the case,” Brant said. 

The program with Vector Solutions costs $161,000. The partnership agreement expires on Oct. 11, 2024. When the contract expires, the police department will look at what needs to be adjusted to improve the program. 

“At that point, we’ll be able to evaluate if they’re providing what we need and if it’s cost effective,” Brant said. “Then we could look to renew.

“What we’ve tried to tell our folks here is that you’ve got to crawl before you run. Chula Vista said, ‘Hey, listen, this looks great. I know that a lot of police departments would love to have what we have but understand that this didn’t happen overnight.’”