Orting Police have a drone that few local agencies have
There is a tool available to Orting police officers that few Pierce County police departments have.
The Orting Police Department drone is equipped with a FLIR (Forward Looking InfraRed) system, which can see temperature changes in an area. It displays a variety of colors, allowing officers to easily detect living or inanimate objects.
The OPD recently used their drone in early July to help locate a man who allegedly shot a Pierce County Sheriff’s Department sergeant. Later, the suspect crashed his vehicle into a ravine as the sergeant pursued him. Depending on personnel and availability, Orting uses his drone to assist other Pierce County law enforcement agencies as needed.
Acting Police Chief Devon Gabreluk said the drone flew over the ravine to the scene to see if there were any hot spots and if the suspect was still in the vehicle.
“They were concerned for their safety, and they wanted to see if we could determine if anyone was still down in the vehicle,” Gabreluk said, as the suspect was armed.
The drone found nothing this time. The suspect was arrested the next morning.
Police have already used the drone to find a lost child who ran away from home in November, according to the agency.
Not every Pierce County police department has a drone with a FLIR system. Gabreluk said the only other local police department that has what it has is the Lakewood Police Department.
The OPD uses its drone for search and rescue missions, among other things. The drone is about the size of a beach ball, Gabreluk said. They acquired it in 2019 with a grant from the United States Department of Homeland Security. It cost around $20,000.
The OPD uses the drone with the FLIR system no more than 10 times a year, Gabreluk said. July marks the fourth time the ministry has used it this year.
Officers must be certified and hold a Federal Aviation Administration Remote Pilot License.
“It’s very convenient for our agency,” Gabreluk said of the drone.
Jennifer Lee, technology and freedom project manager for the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, said some of the concerns with drone use include unprecedented forms of surveillance.
It’s possible drones could be used for facial recognition as well as license plate recognition, and Lee said strict policies need to be in place regarding data retention. There should also be some form of oversight and accountability, Lee said.
“There is huge potential for mass surveillance,” Lee said.
Local jurisdictions usually have rules they follow regarding the use of drones. Lee was unable to provide an estimate of how many police departments in Washington state or the United States use drones, but said there are “many.”
“If drones are deployed, they need to be regulated without infringing on privacy,” Lee said.
Asked about the rules that govern how they can use the drone, Gabreluk said via email: “The Orting Police Department recognizes that all citizens value privacy, and many are concerned about this guy. of technology in the hands of the police. With these key points in mind, we set out to devise a strict set of standards which we have adopted in our policy documents that govern the use of drones within our department.
They have a website about their drone and its use, the department’s policy on drone use, and monthly publications that identify when and where it’s being used, Gabreluk said.
“It is this transparency combined with our strict adherence to FAA rules and regulations regarding the safe and proper use of drones in commercial airspace, and the extensive training, testing and certification of officers who become pilots. of qualified drones that create trust and the public. confidence to successfully run our program,” Gabreluk wrote.
The agency has 13 full-time employees.