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Weber sheriff’s deputies pilot drones to help track and arrest suspects

By Mark Shenefelt - | Mar 29, 2022

Photo supplied, Weber County Sheriff's Office

This infrared photo from a Weber County Sheriff's Office drone shows the area where deputies arrested two auto theft suspects on Friday, March 25, 2022, with the help of the drone. Here, two deputies arrest one of the suspects.

OGDEN — Weber County sheriff’s deputies are now using drones to help make arrests, most recently two auto theft suspects last weekend.

“Without the drone, we wouldn’t have found them,” Lt. Colby Ryan, sheriff’s office spokesperson, said Tuesday.

Deputies on Friday night approached a stolen vehicle at 700 W. 12th Street and the suspects drove away, crashing in a field. The two suspects ran, a circumstance that used to result in long foot chases and more deputies needed.

But with a drone team called in, the suspects were quickly found and arrested. The suspected car thieves were 14-year-olds, who were referred to juvenile authorities.

A drone photo posted on social media by the sheriff’s office show an infrared view of two deputies arresting one of the suspects. A second photo shows a normal view of the area that was being searched.

Photo supplied, Weber County Sheriff's Office

This photo from a Weber County Sheriff's Office drone shows the area where deputies arrested an auto theft suspect on Friday, March 25, 2022, with the help of the drone.

“It’s a huge benefit for us in the field,” Ryan said. “When we are able to get drones up in the air, it takes less deputies to search. It also provides safety for the deputies — they don’t have to go into a dense area or fields on foot.”

Ryan said Friday’s arrest was the second time deputies have used drones to track down a suspect. Last fall, deputies set up a drone lookout over an auto recycling yard that had been hit by catalytic converter thefts.

“We were able to set up a perimeter and track him through the maze of cars being dismantled there,” Ryan said.

The sheriff’s office has seven drones, used in patrol situations and for other purposes such as crime scene and car crash reconstruction photography.

After county search and rescue crews obtained a high-end drone to help find missing people in remote areas, the sheriff’s office realized the flying devices could be used for patrol purposes, Ryan said.

Photo supplied, DJI

A police drone is seen in this undated photo. The Weber County Sheriff's Office has seven drones for use in law enforcement situations.

The sheriff’s drone pilots need to obtain Federal Aviation Administration licenses and undergo training. Each sheriff’s patrol crew has one drone pilot, who has the drone in his patrol vehicle. “We have at least one on the street 24-7,” Ryan said.

The Ogden Police Department also has a drone program, Lt. William Farr said Tuesday.

Ryan said the sheriff’s office has been able to dispatch drone teams to help smaller police departments in the county when the need arises. Drones can extend the reach of a search, up to 500 feet away from any officer, Ryan said.

The sheriff’s drones also will be useful in cases of missing adults or children, he said.

Stefanie Casey, a former North Ogden city council candidate and a delegate in last weekend’s Weber County Republican Party Convention, said Tuesday she has concerns about potential privacy violations with the use of police drones.

She mentioned the Ogden Police Department’s defunct plans a decade ago to acquire a blimp to patrol high-crime areas.

Casey said she attended several meet-and-greet sessions for county political candidates this year and heard Sheriff Ryan Arbon talk about his office’s drone program.

“I didn’t like the idea of it at all,” she said, and she did some research about police drone programs elsewhere. In some communities, such as Chula Vista, California, concerns have been raised about privacy and use of data gathered by police drones, she said.

“I don’t think the reward outweighs the risk, if you really think about it,” she said.

Ryan said by email that the sheriff’s office follows all FAA drone standards and added, “We do not fly or record footage on private property unless we have consent from the homeowners.”

Casey said she supported Arbon’s opponent, Kevin Burns, at the convention, where Arbon prevailed. “I want to be clear that these concerns did not come up as a way to smear Sheriff Arbon,” she said. Now that Arbon’s path is smooth to reelection this fall, Casey said she supports the sheriff, but “we still have to be honest about the real concerns we have.”


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