A drone will join the Jeannette police department soon, but the device’s potential uses could reach beyond the force.
Police Chief Shannon Binda said the unmanned aircraft system will be available for city firefighters and code enforcement officers to use for checking out buildings and helping with rescues.
“It’s more than just the aspect of the police department, it’s more for the city as a whole,” Binda said.
City council authorized the spending of $7,000 last month from a special equipment fund for the purchase of the drone and nine hours of training for three officers. The drone will have extra capabilities, such as a spotlight, infrared camera and speaker system, in addition to photos and videos.
Police plan to use the device to assist with missing person investigations, flooding, photographing crash scenes from above and some surveillance during investigations. Binda first discussed his request with council two years ago.
Binda said authorities will not use the device to infringe on the public’s privacy rights. He is creating a policy for the drone’s use.
“People need to understand that there are still rules and regulations we have to go by as far as privacy,” he said.
The drone could come in handy for other situations, like assessing a burning building, said fire Chief Bill Frye. The infrared camera could help firefighters pinpoint flames in a large structure or monitor a building’s roof to make sure conditions are safe for people on the ground.
Plus, the drone would eliminate the need for the fire department to run its ladder truck to reach roofs or tall buildings for code inspections, Frye said.
Drone operators are required to register with the Federal Aviation Administration, which governs how they can be used and the training needed to operate one. More than one million drones are registered with the agency nationwide, the majority of which are used by hobbyists.
Binda hopes to get a larger monitor to use with the drone. But for now a Jeannette officer on the ground would control the device and use a smartphone to see a video feed.
“I just think it’s a huge benefit to the community, a tool you can’t put a price tag on,” Binda said. “The City of Jeannette is not buying a helicopter anytime soon.”