Above photo: CPD Asst. Chief Alfredo Fajardo shows off one of the new drones financed through an anonymous grant. The drones will be used for search and rescue and to allow officer to asses dangerous situations from a distance.
By Greg Ritchie
CROCKETT – Crockett Police Department (CPD) unveiled their new drone program to The Messenger as the two state-of-the-art drones are now fully kitted out and ready for service. Assistant Police Chief Alfredo Fajardo gave The Messenger a peak at what criminals will never want to see.
The two drones were provided by an anonymous grant, which cost about $16,000. Although available on the market, these drones come with some special tools CPD hopes to use to keep people in Houston County safe.
Fajardo unpacked the two drones in the Crockett Civic Center parking lot, where there would be plenty of room to put them through their paces. He had recently spent three days training on the systems with Pearland Police, who has one of the most advanced drone divisions and was able to show him how to deploy and use the special drones. Fajardo said the department will soon train other officers to use the equipment.
And these’s aren’t the drones many of us are familiar with. They come equipped with a full tablet for a screen, which can display images in many ways, from night vision to infrared. The images can be recorded in video or still-photo and would all be part of any investigation.
Fajardo got one of the drones unpacked and in the air in record time, obviously well-trained in deploying the unit quickly, in case of emergency. These are toys for adults – and the type they hope they never have to use.
The bigger of the two, comes equipped with a powerful light for use at night and this reporter’s favorite function – a loudspeaker where the controller can speak and the suspect or victim can hear the officer’s voice. One can only imagine the shock a suspect might feel, hiding somewhere, thinking he’s gotten away, when the robot plane flies in and tells him to give up – he’s surrounded.
The drone program started as an idea at CPD which was able to find a sponsor to provide the funding. They are not used for trailing suspects or monitoring speeders – but are used in conjunction with other agencies or on special missions, such as search and rescue.
When Houston County officials are looking for someone in the woods, CPD can transport and launch their drone much faster than outside agencies who are usually called in to assist. The drone can fly up to 400 feet and with the different camera capabilities and powerful zoom, will be a game-changer for rescue operations in those deep piney woods late at night.
The smaller of the pair is designed to enter buildings and make sure an area is clear before officer enter. When executing a search warrant, for example, a front door can be breached and the drone sent in to check the area before officers are potentially exposed to danger.
CPD had the units labelled with their logo and the information required by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) which determines how drones may operate. The new drones will help both CPD and other local agencies broaden their view as they help rescuers find lost hunters or help officers deal with dangerous suspects from a distance.
As Fajardo maneuvered the drone high into the sky above the civic center, it was amazing to see the power of the newest technology in cameras – the Crockett Square was plainly visible – and zooming in, revealed remarkable quality and detail.
The drones are a new addition to CPD’s force, just like the new patrol units they recently received thanks to support from the Crockett city council. They are not meant be used to spy on people or monitor randomly – they require probable cause and warrants, just like any other part of the force.
The drones do, however, say many things about CPD and our community. The fact that CPD came up with the concept and was able to get the funding for it shows how innovative our little town police department has become. They are both staying ahead of and reacting to trends in bigger cities and the ever-evolving scope of what law enforcement needs.
As more and more people visit the area to work, shop, hunt and fish – there will inevitably be more rescues needed deep in the woods. Some of the areas in Houston County can be so remote, even seasoned locals can easily get turned around. Having the capability to deploy such advanced technology will certainly pay off and save lives.
With some of the criminal elements who move, from time to time, through the area, to be able to deploy a drone inside a suspect’s home, or around them when they are located to let officers know what to expect – will, without doubt, save officers’ lives in the long run.
At no cost to taxpayers, CPD has provided a force-multiplier to area law enforcement – and a stealthy surprise for would-be criminals.
Greg Ritchie can be reached at [email protected]