Fort Wayne Police Department Ready To Use Drones As First Responders
With 100 flights as of Monday, the Fort Wayne Police Department’s Air Support Unit is ready to take its Drone as First Responder Program from testing to operational.
Since its inception in 2017, the unit has seen rapid advancements in its drones, starting with non-zooming, non-thermal cameras on drones that could go out 2,000 feet from their base to a drone they can pilot six miles out from their starting point with cameras that allow officers in the unit to take an active role in assessing situations before first responders arrive on scene.
Now with 11 officers assisting the unit both full-and part-time and learning how to use the equipment, the department is seeing successes.
In the first 100 flights, the drone:
- was first on the scene 72% of the time;
- arrived an average of 2.1 minutes before officers;
- spent an average of 10.7 minutes at the scene;
- and helped determine an officer could disregard the call or that no dispatch was needed 12 times.
Officer Matt Rowland, who works full time for the Air Support Unit, said he sees no limits to what the drones can do and that he believes they will help save lives.
“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.”
The unit’s DJI Matrice M300 drone is currently housed on top of the Three Rivers Apartment Complex, but as weather warms up, the department has hopes of expanding to three other locations, Lutheran Downtown Hospital, Parkview Hospital Randallia and Glenbrook Square. In the coming years, the department hopes to expand out even further to having drones positioned throughout the city.
However, with current Federal Aviation Administration rules, the unit is unable to do so without having someone physically present at the drone’s take-off spot to monitor the area for any possible issues. Going forward, the department hopes to see that aspect of the guidelines changed to allow further development of the program.
With one officer posted at the drone’s take-off point, another is in the Emergency Operations Center housed in Rousseau Centre listening in on 911 calls and watching the drone’s cameras, as well as keeping an eye on anything that could hinder the drone’s flight.
The drones do not surveil any areas but are used as needed. Rowland said the first of many wins of the program came when officers were able to help a woman whose purse was stolen downtown.
He said the woman was chasing the man who stole her purse. Officers manning the drone were able to locate the pair and continue following the man until they were able to apprehend him, ultimately keeping the woman from continuing to chase the man and putting herself in harm’s way.
Rowland said the department hopes to keep the public aware of the program to eliminate any concerns people may have. He emphasized that the unit is not conducting random surveillance and responding only to calls for service. He said the drone does not store footage of anything unless the operator believes it might later be needed for evidence.