BOSSIER CITY, Louisiana - "The sky is the future..i'm just proud to be part of the program," says Lt. William Cox of the Bossier Parish Sheriff's Office. Lt. Cox and Capt. Donnie Keith helped launch and now oversee a program on the rise.
"It's the most inexpensive way we have our eyes in the sky," says Capt. Keith.
The department was on the leading edge of deploying drones for law enforcement purposes. What began as a tool to document flooding of the Red River has grown to include 5 camera equipped flying machines and 10 deputy pilots.
"It helps us cover ground a lot quicker than just having the deputy walking on the ground," says Lt. Cox.
Standing 6 feet 10 inches tall, Lt. Cox is used to a different vantage point than most. The drones he regularly remote pilots are capable of staying in the air for 20 to 30 minutes. The cameras high in the sky have helped rescue lost hunters and locate suspects making a run for it. The drones are also used to document crime scenes and investigate suspicious packages.
"It just is another tool in our toolbox that assists us in the job," says Lt. Cox.
Calls about the program have come in from other law enforcement agencies throughout Louisiana, and as far away as Massachusetts, California and Australia. The Sheriff's Office has to follow the same rules as drone professionals and hobbyists, even adopting their own FAA approved training program.
"We take people who don't know how to fly, we have to teach them weather, we have to teach them airspace and we have to teach them FAA regulations," says Capt. Keith.
Law enforcement drone use is not without controversy. The Louisiana ACLU once referred to their use as a warrantless search. Lt. Cox says they aren't interested in browsing your backyard.
"It's just not our interest to see what you do, what we're concerned with is the safety of the public and those here in the parish," Lt. Cox says.
Capt. Keith says the program may only be scratching the surface of what is possible.
"It's in its infancy, I don't know what the technology holds for tomorrow but to me it's wide open, it's only going to get better."
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