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Sahuarita Police Department first in AZ to use drones to fight crime

Published: Jan. 13, 2017 at 1:44 AM MST|Updated: Mar. 2, 2018 at 11:12 AM MST
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(Source: Tucson News Now)
(Source: Tucson News Now)

SAHUARITA, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The first law enforcement agency in the state of Arizona is now using drones to help them fight crime and assist with investigations.

"I'm looking at 360 degrees around them - in case someone tries to come over and ambush them," Officer Raul Mata with the Sahuarita Police Department said.

The Sahuarita Police Department showed Tucson News Now actual footage shot from their new Phantom 4 Series Drone as they searched for a suspect at a cement plant.

"There's a possibility someone could be inside that building," Officer Raul Mata said.

The department's two drones can travel up to 45 miles an hour with a 30 minute flight time before they need to be re-charged. There is an iPad attached to the controller that captures video from the drone camera in real time. Officer Raul Mata just became certified by the FAA to pilot the drone. He said they'll be instrumental for helping to locate missing hikers.

"The fact that we could probably narrow down a time search of three and a half hours to 15 minutes is immense," Mata said.

Because the use of drones for law enforcement is so new, there's still a lot of grey area between state laws and the FAA. One question many want to know, will the drones encroach on the public's privacy?

"We're not going to be looking into people's bedrooms. If something needs to be done that requires a search warrant. We're going to get a warrant," Officer Philip Steele with the Sahuarita Police Department said.

State regulations prohibit the drones from being used in vehicle pursuits or equipping them with weapons and flying them at night. Officers must keep the drones in their "line-of-sight" at all times. Sahuarita PD said the drones are more cost-effective than deploying a helicopter.

They say the drones increase officer safety and foresee other departments adding drones to their team in the future.

"It's actually a force multiplier. Having one of these is essentially the same as having twenty extra officers that are eyes to be able to move around and see," Officer Steele said.

Steele said they also plan to use the aerial vantage point of the drones to assist with the reconstruction of traffic accidents. Sahuarita PD purchased the drones at $3,000 for each one with RICO funds.

The department said over the next few months their goal is certify nine officers as drone pilots – that way an operator will be on hand for every shift.

Copyright 2017 Tucson News Now. All rights reserved.

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