OGDEN -- It's not a question of if as much as when drones are used in local law enforcement, a Top of Utah executive says.
Responding to a story in the Standard-Examiner, Troy May, CEO of Digital Defense Surveillance of Ogden said there is no doubt drones will be used in local law enforcement in the coming years. His company has been manufacturing the unmanned surveillance devices for a more than a year and he said several have already been purchased for use in Utah -- though he declined to disclose who bought them and when that will be announced.
Built in Idaho Falls, Idaho, the devices range in price from $3,000 to $25,000, May said, and are small enough that they fit in the trunk of a squad car. He sees most departments having access to drones in the future.
May said the advantage of a drone is it gives officers access to a full view of what is going on around a building, in cases where officers are going to the scene of a potentially dangerous situation.
"It gives you a lot better idea of what is going on," May said of the equipment.
He claims a drone could have potentially saved the life of the late Jared Francom, an Ogden police officer killed in January of 2012 in the line of duty, while serving a drug-related search warrant.
Syracuse Police Chief Garret Atkin also sees a future for drones, but doesn't have any idea when that timeframe will come about or when they will be viewed as affordable.
"There are obviously some types of cases where you can clearly see technology like this would be an advantage, like a search and rescue or trying to locate someone with Alzheimer's," Atkin said. He likens drones to thermal imaging cameras, which were first used in a military application and now are among the tools used by law enforcement.
Atkin said the unmanned mechanical devices will still have the need for a human element. He said people will have to be trained in how to operate the devices.
May said his company currently offers two weeks of training in how to use the drones it builds. He claims the devices, with the flip of a switch, can land themselves. Besides training to use the device, he said drones in use also required spotters. He doesn't think that is a big obstacle.
"When you slap a camera on a drone that is a radio controlled object it's no different than a highway patrol helicopter and looking down into backyards. It's a much cheaper version and accomplishes the same thing. They can fly by themselves," May said.
Bountiful Police Chief Tom Ross says he understands some of the concerns raised by people about the devices potentially infringing on privacy rights, but he said there is a role for the technology in law enforcement.
He said an unmanned device would be cheaper to use than a state police helicopter for overhead surveillance and he said a drone could be especially helpful in a SWAT scenario. But like Atkin, he wonders how local departments will afford it.
Ross said he could potentially see a scenario where several departments could share access or ownership of the unmanned device, but he doesn't see individual departments being able to afford them.
"I don't see Bountiful buying them anytime in the near future," he said.
Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, said he will run legislation this year to address how drones are used and what guidelines are put in place. May agrees there need to be limits put in place.
"If they are in the wrong hands they can be used against you," May said.