Drone gives New Albany Police Department an eye in the sky

Gary Seman Jr.
ThisWeek group
Officer Chad Bauman demonstrates the New Albany Police Department's DJI Matrice 300 drone. Four officers are certified drone pilots by the Federal Aviation Administration, and two are necessary to use the drone – one to control its flight and the other to monitor camera feedback.

The New Albany Police Department’s latest crime-fighting tool has a bird’s-eye view of the city.

According to information from the department, the $28,000 drone is like a remote-control robot with four rotors, able to soar as high as 400 feet in the air. It carries a 300mm zoom camera that can read a license plate from a mile away.

“It’s amazingly stable, even if it gets a little windy,” said officer Jeff Wall, one of four NAPD personnel certified as pilots by the Federal Aviation Administration to fly the drone.

Officer Jeff Wall demonstrates the camera on the department's DJI Matrice 300 drone.

The DJI Matrice 300 has infrared visioning and anti-collision sensors – among other features – and can run for 50 minutes on battery power, Sgt. Joel Strahler said.

The police department has three backup battery packs that take less than a minute to swap out and get the drone back in the air, Strahler said.

Police Chief Greg Jones said the multipurpose unit has many advantages over helicopters and officers on foot. For starters, it's quiet and can go virtually undetected when flying hundreds of feet above the ground, Jones said.

He relayed one incident where the drone was deployed when a teen ran away from home. The youngster was found in 20 minutes.

“That could take hours on foot to locate this individual,” Jones said.

Use of the drone is driven by call volume and the nature of those calls, according to the department.

The applications are numerous: providing aerial photos of crash scenes, monitoring traffic around crash scenes, assisting in locating evidence and missing people, and providing live feeds of real-time activities such as special events or police situations.

The department purchased the drone in October, trained staff and has been using it since the first of the year, Jones said.

Officer safety is another major benefit of the device, he said.

Jones said the NAPD was convinced it needed a drone when the department assisted the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office on a call about a man in his truck who had a shotgun and was threatening to kill himself. The sheriff’s office used a drone to take images of the man, who was in a standoff with officers for several hours before the situation was safely resolved, he said.

New Albany officers also used the drone to find and follow a suspect in a sting operation, the chief said.

Several central Ohio law-enforcement agencies have drone programs, including Westerville, Dublin, Delaware, Hilliard and the Franklin County and Delaware County sheriff’s offices.

The Ohio State University Airport also uses drone technology but largely for maintenance purposes.

It takes two pilots to use the NAPD drone: one to control its flight and another to monitor the camera feedback, Strahler said.

“It’s fairly new to us, but hopefully, we can use it at events this year,” Strahler said.

gseman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekGary