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Donated drone raises city police eye to new heights

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Williamsport Bureau of Police Agent Jason Bolt hovers the new police drone over The Green next to City Hall Tuesday. The DJI Inspire I drone was donated to the police department by the 9-11 Memorial Coalition during the 9-11 Memorial Ride.

City police officers have a new technological weapon in their “tool box” to aid in combating crime in a more efficient and safer way.

The 9-11 Memorial Coalition at its annual memorial ride this year, gifted the Williamsport Bureau of Police its first unmanned aerial vehicle, or what is more commonly known as a drone.

One of the greatest advantages of utilizing a drone, instead of sending officers into various situations, is that it is a safer option.

For example, in a search and rescue scenario, law

enforcement can cover a lot more ground with a drone, similar to being in a helicopter.

“A helicopter has the ability to look at a huge area of operations at one time. You can actually make it safer for the emergency responders by eliminating certain areas you don’t even have to look. We don’t need to climb up and check for this missing person in this area because from what we can see here there’s no way that’s passable. Or, ‘Look I didn’t realize as soon as you climb over that ridge, there’s a 20-foot drop, that could really hurt us.’ So we don’t want to do that,” said Agent Jason Bolt, of the city police department. “There’s clear advantages in that just for safety reasons. Plus you can cover ground more quickly just by having that view.”

This is particularly useful since the state police helicopter is no longer stationed at Montoursville. In the past, local law enforcement could count on a fairly quick response if aerial assistance was needed, but that is no longer the case, according to city police Capt. Jody Miller.

“To try to get the helicopter here is much more difficult and not so time efficient,” he said. Because of the helicopter being located out of the area, it could take an hour for it to respond, he added. Having the drone reduces the response time.

“Once we have staff fully trained it would give us another option. It would give us another tool readily available,” Miller said.

Other situations where a drone would be advantageous include crime scene analysis and collisions. According to Bolt, there are times in a crash when it is better to look at it from a high point of view.

“You can see skid marks and things like that more clearly if you’re looking top down. You can get a better surrounding view of everything that’s going on and know the influences of that crash,” he said.

That bird’s-eye view is also helpful in analyzing a crime scene, rather than just relying on analysis from a ground level view.

“You can see a lot of things that would probably also be hidden from you if you were down at ground view. It’s also helpful, for example, when we’ve had certain crimes, where it’s not all just ground level. We’ve had people that may toss weapons on roofs of other evidence or things of that nature. Unless you climb up there you’re never going to see it, but we can inspect those areas a little more easily.”

Another situation that benefits from the use of a drone involves an armed suspect.

“Last December we had a barricaded gunman on Memorial Avenue. It was an all-day affair. We actually did make a request for a drone. After making a few phone calls, we actually had someone agree to come in with their drone,” Miller said.

“When you have a barricaded gunman, (you want to be able) to see the scene from an aerial position, to see where your resources are deployed, to see what roadways are closed or need to be closed, to see how tight your perimeter is or how you want to expand your perimeter, to see if the person is in the backyard. If there are high fences, you can’t see what that person is doing or are they coming out or are they stressing out. Are they looking for avenues of escape because they know police have completely surrounding the residence? It just gives you so much more information for you to make adjustments or the next step with the images you get back,” he added.

The drone’s aerial view can also be utilized in active emergencies, such as flooding and at large events, where an expansive view of the crowd can help in planning the deployment of manpower.

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