In a society that is becoming ever-increasingly dependent on technology, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office works diligently to keep up. There are many ways that technology keeps us safe. Drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are a very small part of a much larger picture regarding how the sheriff’s office utilizes technology to fight and prevent crime within Douglas County as a whole. The following is a breakdown of a few major technological elements about the drone program.
The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office utilizes several UAVs, all with different capabilities. Some are consumer grade (not much more than a flying stabilized 4k camera) while others are professional grade which allow for larger payloads (to include dual cameras that utilize zoom, thermal, or infrared cameras). So how is this technology used? To date, it’s mostly used for accurate evidence collection, but it can and is also used for surveillance and tracking suspects at large.
The ability to surveil is limited by the Fourth Amendment, which establishes laws in order to “search” a person or property. We are not able to randomly fly up to somebody’s window and “take a peek” because we suspect there might illegal activity afoot. Probable cause is required and more than likely a warrant for such activity. That is unless we are legally permitted to do a warrantless search in an emergency tactical situation.
When it comes to tracking a suspect running from law enforcement, there are also some pretty substantial limitations. Airspace (the sky) is regulated by the FAA, and there are certain areas in Douglas County that do not allow a UAV to fly without special permission or a waiver (specifically near Centennial Airport). Permission can be granted, but it usually takes some time to make it happen, giving the suspect a chance to get outside of the drone’s range. In order to be legally flown commercially, a drone is required to be within a pilot’s visual line of sight (which is about a mile on a clear day) and is limited to a 30-minute flight time, and about 35 mph. The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office does have a night waiver which allows us to fly at night, but again, it is required to see the drone (which is accomplished with the attachment of a bright miniature strobe).
Where the UAV really shines is with accurate evidence collection. Drones are excellent at painting a very accurate portrayal of a scene using multiple technologies to include 3D and Ortho-mosaic mapping. These tools combined make it so that we can present very accurate portrayals of a scene to a judge and jury in cases that would have previously missed the big picture. Investigators can go back to a scene to review details on a 3D model well after the incident has cleared.
While drones are a hot topic, that tech is only scratching the surface of the technology utilized in Douglas County to keep citizens safe. Other exciting technologies include the utilization of the STACC (Statistical & Tactical Approach to Crime and Crashes) program, the SET team, license plate reader technology, body cameras, dash cameras and better radio coverage for communications.
To learn more, please join the Seniors’ Council of Douglas County for our next meeting on April 2 at the Highlands Ranch Library, Event Hall B, 9292 S. Ridgeline Blvd., Highlands Ranch. Our business meeting will begin at 9:30 a.m. Our presentation and community conversation will begin at 10:15 a.m. Deputy Jason Blanchard will present how technology is keeping us safe and the exciting world of technology in law enforcement! Our meetings are free and open to the public. Deputy Blanchard is the community resources/PIO with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. For more information visit www.dcsheriff.net. This column is hosted by the Seniors’ Council of Douglas County. For more information, please visit www.MyDougCoSeniorLife.com, email DCSeniorLife@douglas.co.us or call 303-663-7681.
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