Drone expands police tool chest in Liberty Hill

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By ANTHONY FLORES

Since the Liberty Hill Police Department acquired a drone, the new tool in local law enforcement has proven to be worth the investment.

“I think it was about six months ago, but we were the first drone on the scene to the Cedar Park shooting. We were able to keep overwatch of the house and continue to relay messages to the command center,” said LHPD Sgt. Robert Fox. “The system that we have is called Drone Sense. We monitor the entire flight via an iPad. It’s all over the internet, so when we are monitoring what’s going on at our incident command post, they can watch the video live. During an incident, they can make the calls at a safe distance.”

Several potential uses for the drone were taken into account when the department decided to purchase the machine.

“A little over a year ago, we decided to get the drone,” said Fox. “They’re helpful when it comes to search and rescue and also trying to locate missing and elderly people. They’re also great when you’re trying to locate a fugitive.”

A crucial step in deploying a done is training to pilot the device through a variety of scenarios.

“I was the first one to attend Drone Pilot Inc. They send you through a course and teach you how to fly them indoors, in high-risk situations, through the wind, or even against armed suspects,” said Fox. “We were provided some smaller drones, training drones that are for any mishaps.”

With many drones on the market, the department reached out to the company Unmanned Vehicle Technologies, to get a feel of what would fit best with their needs.

“After we spoke with them, we were able to hone in on what we wanted for our drone. That’s when we chose the Mavik 2 Enterprise drone,” said Fox. “That drone is our distance drone. It takes off and can go a couple of miles and a few hundred feet up into the air. It also has infrared, so at night we can look for suspects or any missing person.”

Along with the Mavik 2, the department has several smaller drones that are less expensive, easily replaceable, and can help in infiltration situations.

“We’ve also got micro-drones that fly with first-person goggles. They are the type of drones that if we have a high-risk situation or something dangerous, we can put them inside,” said Fox. “The officers can stand outside and view what’s going on. If we have a suspect in a home, with the drone, we can see everything inside. They’re also more disposable. If they’re taken down, then the drone can be replaced.”

Beyond traditional police situations, the drone can help in natural disaster situations.
“If we have flooding or anything like that, usually the next day Emergency Management will come out and want to see how things are. The drones can be sent to see the damage,” said Fox.

Ultimately, the drone is a tool that helps the department do more with less risk.

“The main concern of it is officer safety at all times,” said Fox. “Before drones came in, you were trying to find a building owner to give you blueprints for places, but you still wouldn’t be able to know where a suspect was. You can keep officers safe and get a view of an area that you typically wouldn’t get.”

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