Council Approves New and Improved Drone for Police Department

By Jeremy Coumbes on August 31, 2023 at 2:35pm

The Jacksonville Police Department will soon have an updated version of a multipurpose tool in the toolbox that has already made a big impact in local cases.

The Jacksonville City Council approved a request by Chief Adam Mefford for the purchase of a new aerial drone for the police department Monday night. Currently, the department is using a loaner unit after the existing drone experienced a catastrophic internal failure in June.

The Jacksonville Citizens Police Academy Alumni purchased the first drone about four to five years ago, according to Detective Luke Poore who is the department’s main drone pilot.

He says at the time, that drone was the most technically advanced, however, the new one is far and away more capable. “The technology is changing as fast as computers used to. They haven’t necessarily plateaued yet. It can actually handle pretty much any inclement weather that we want to put it in. Because we don’t get to pick and choose, it’s not always seventy and sunny when we have to work.

It also has self-heating and fast-charging batteries. It comes with a charging case that if we are in the field, we can charge the batteries from ten percent to ninety percent in about thirty minutes. So with the number of batteries we are going to get, we could pretty much fly all day long.”

The new drone will also have a four-camera system that includes a 200 times zoom and even a thermal option Poore says could one day be used to assist the fire department in locating hot spots in a large structure fire for example.

Drones of this size and capability are regulated by the FAA, and pilots like Poore must be certified in order to operate them. He says as more officers become certified, the greater the capability the department will have for a tool that has already played a vital role in two major incidents this year.

After we get more pilots we are probably going to have more uses than what we’ve had in the past. But it’s not something that we are going to use every single day. Recently with the older drone that is no longer working, we were able to find a fleeing suspect who I believe was wanted on multiple warrants on multiple charges in about thirty seconds when he was hiding in a cornfield.

That was the perfect storm, that’s probably never going to happen that fast again. But it was very beneficial to have at that time. And then obviously the incident we just had down here at Church and College. The information that we were able to get and relay to the guys on the ground at the time was paramount.”

In both instances, the suspects involved were taken into custody without major incident or injury to them or law enforcement. Poore says though there is a bit of a stigma in the public when it comes to police flying drones overhead. He says though that there are only specific times they can be utilized by police.

There’s only one law on the books in Illinois and it’s the Drones As First Responders Act, and so we are only going to use the drone for essential police services so to speak. If we are going to be doing anything surveillance type-wise or anything or things along those lines, we have to have a search warrant.

We can use it for crash scene and crime scene photography, we can also use it for search and rescue missions and other things along those lines. There is a certain set of criteria where we are not allowed to fly the drone.

We are not going to fly over people’s houses just to see what is going on in their backyard. That is by far and away something we are not going to do. We are not spy planes, we are not using them to infringe on anybody’s rights in any way shape, or form. It’s just another tool to help us do our jobs safely.”

The new drone will cost the department just over $14,500.00. Chief Mefford told the council that insurance on the last drone will provide approximately $5,800 of that cost, and the rest will be paid for via funds from a $15,000 reimbursement from the department’s body camera program so nothing is being paid out of the general fund. e says the new drone should be received within the next month.