Most people consider a drone to be a fun toy.
For the Indianola Police Department, it’s a powerful new tool.
“It’s incredible,” said Captain Brian Sher, interim Indianola police chief. “We’re coming to find it’s a pretty vital piece of equipment. When you need it, you need it.”
The department bought the Matrice drone through DJI, a company that specializes in drones for law enforcement, in June. So far, said Sher, it’s been used 10 times on missions for both the police department, and Indianola Fire Department, which partnered on the purchase.
“There was a fire at the high school at the ag building,” said Sher. “We put it up and they could see through the infrared what hotspots were still left. It assists them in getting the fires out and the hot spots knocked down faster.”
It also can save lives, he said.
In a recent car accident, first responders found two people in the vehicle. A third, the passengers said, had been thrown from the vehicle.
“We get that up, it’s infared, we’ll be able to find them real quick,” Sher said.
The package, including the drone, additional batteries and training cost about $14,000. Criminals paid for most of it, said Sher.
“The bulk was paid for from our forfeiture funds,” he said, money collected from people charged with drug and other crimes. “We really appreciate the drug dealers and criminals funding our drone program.”
While the drone serves a strong law enforcement and public safety role, Sher said he also hopes it will help with staffing.
“We’ve been losing officers and losing officers, loosing officers,” he said. “As a supervisory team was talk about ‘how do we make more opportunities for everybody to be a bigger part of this place, have a bigger buy in, and maybe want to stay?’”
The department invited interested officers to sign up to train as drone operators. When eight expressed interest, all of them got trained.
“It gives people another opportunity, but it also spreads the time out in the chances of a drone-certified drone pilot being at work when the drone is needed,” he said.
Six of the eight have completed 20 hours of training and been certified to operate the drone, he said. The other two will finish soon. Officers with video gaming experience have an edge, Sher admitted.
“The officers that have video gaming experience are very good at it,” he said. “Very good at flying. Me, I had an Atari and a joystick. I didn't sign up for it.”