South Carolina police departments unveil aerial drones | Homeland Security Newswire

SurveillanceSouth Carolina police departments unveil aerial drones

Published 5 April 2011

Two local police departments in South Carolina recently unveiled the latest additions to their arsenal of law enforcement tools — remote controlled mini helicopters; these small helicopters are equipped with cameras and will allow police officers to conduct aerial surveillance, search for missing persons, or monitor dangerous situations from a distance; the remote controlled vehicles cost about twenty-five cents in electricity to charge the battery and less than $4,000 to purchase, far cheaper than full size helicopters; the drones’ battery can last for up to forty minutes, and helps it run silently making it ideal for discrete surveillance
Two local police departments in South Carolina recently unveiled the latest additions to their arsenal of law enforcement tools – remote controlled mini helicopters.

Richmond County displays their new UAVs // Source: thestate.com

These small helicopters are equipped with cameras and will allow police officers to conduct aerial surveillance, search for missing persons, or monitor dangerous situations from a distance.

The helicopters were custom built by officers from the Richland County Sheriff’s Department and the Columbia Police Department, and will be used by both.

The unmanned aerial vehicles are far cheaper and easier to operate than full size helicopters, which cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to maintain, operate, and fuel. In contrast, the remote controlled vehicles cost about twenty-five cents in electricity to charge the battery and less than $4,000 to purchase.

The helicopters were bought with funds raised from the sale of seized assets.

“There’s no expense except plugging in the battery,” Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said.

Lott added, “If a bad guy shoots this down, it’s easily replaced and you don’t … risk a human life.”

The drones’ battery can last for up to forty minutes, and helps it run silently making it ideal for discrete surveillance.

“It does everything a helicopter does, but it’s very quiet. It can get up there in the sky, so it’s just a dot, for covert surveillance,” Sheriff Lott said.

He added, “It can fly so high in the air that you’re not going to really see it or hear it.”

The mini helicopters can fly up to fifty miles per hour, and is equipped with high resolution cameras with zoom capabilities that are fed back to mobile command centers.

Deputy Marcus Kim, who built the Sheriff’s aircraft and will pilot the vehicle, said, “It’s pretty amazing what you can see from the sky.”

Critics, like the American Civil Liberties Union which has actively opposed the use of these aerial systems, say that police should be required to have a search warrant before these drones can be used because they are so inconspicuous that they can view private property without an individual noticing.

These types of remote controlled aerial drones have already been deployed by local police departments in Miami and Houston.

Sheriff Lott sought to ease privacy concerns by reiterating the fact that the drones cannot fly for very long and would only be deployed for special missions.

This is only going to be used for special operations that we’ll have a mission for. Its flight time is not that long where we can just take it and fly it around, so it’ll have a particular mission. So just to ride around looking for something with this particular aircraft is not going to happen,” he said.