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Growing Bend Police drone fleet offers situational awareness — an extra set of eyes in the sky

(Update: Adding video, comments from police more details)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The Bend Police Department now has over a dozen sets of "eyes in the skies" available for investigations and tracking down criminals or missing people. More than a dozen drones are their latest crime-fighting tools, a far more nimble (and less costly) option for aerial views than a plane or helicopter.

Officers have a variety of systems with specific capabilities and assorted payloads to allow for various tasks, such as crime scene-mapping. They also have drones in several sizes, to allow for longer flight time or flying within a building.

"At nighttime, being able to see with the FLIR (infrared) capabilities, covering larger areas, and don't have to send officers walking on foot," Community Service Officer Tim Izo said Monday.

Bend Police currently have a total of 15 drones, and on Monday, Bend Police gave NewsChannel 21 a demonstration of the technology. 

"Officer safety is a huge component," Izo said, "and the drones give us a lot of intelligence that we can relay to officers out in the field to make the best decisions possible."

"They have to go through FAA certification to get small unmanned aerial licenses," he added. "It's part of FAA Part 107 requirements, and we have monthly trainings and go through specific training for operating aircraft."

The drones are used for a variety of situations, from search and rescue to DUIIs.

"We just had a call the other night where a suspect had fled a DUI and we were able to locate them in a neighborhood, and take them into custody safely," Izo added.

It took the team no more than an hour to find and arrest her, with the help of a drone, Bend Police Communications Manager Sheila Miller said.

"It just gives a lot of situational awareness, allows command to make really good decisions, and kind of see the area before we send officers," Izo said.

The cost of the drones varies anywhere from a couple $100 to $20,000.

In the couple of years the department has been using them, there has been some damage, but not a lot.

"We did have one subject -- we had to land a drone close by, and the subject stepped on it," Izo said. "We've never had anyone try to shoot a drone down or anything like that." 

"Our department use drones as a way to provide our officers with critical information as they respond to emergency situations and conduct criminal investigations," the department says in its online background about the UAS at https://www.bendoregon.gov/government/departments/police/community-information/unmanned-aircraft-systems-uas

The Bend Police Department has 10 drone operators, two team leaders and a program manager. Along with the FAA license, operators must attend a basic UAS school and pass the NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) UAS flight standard.

Bend Police said the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office is also using drones in its work.

Article Topic Follows: Crime And Courts
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Kelsey McGee

Kelsey McGee is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Kelsey here.

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