The tech buzz around Oro Valley may soon fall from the sky instead of gossip. The Oro Valley Police Department is soon rolling out its new drone program after months of planning. The drones can serve in search-and-rescue missions throughout the desert, crime scene remapping, aerial observing at large venues and disaster response (particularly during monsoon season).
“It’s not a replacement for manned aviation, but it’s a great tool.” said OVPD Lt. John Teachout.
This project has been in the works for six months. At the end of last September, the Oro Valley Music Festival brought a crowd of 7,000 to town. Looking for new, efficient ways to oversee the event, OVPD enlisted the help of the Sahuarita Police Department’s drone for crowd viewing and control.
“It gave officers an aerial perspective and offered a tremendous amount of insight,” Teachout said. “It was a new way of viewing how we work.”
The final day of the Oro Valley Music Festival, Sunday, Oct. 1, the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history occurred in Las Vegas, at a concert venue very similar to the one OVPD was working at. This prompted the officers to consider new methods of crowd security, and the drones they were already trying out made perfect sense.
That very same day, OVPD decided to begin working with unmanned aircraft in their own department. The department received its new tech back in December, and have been busily training officers since. Six officers, a sergeant and a lieutenant on the team are FAA certified to pilot the machines. Via an online training module, the personnel receive their Part 107 License.
The OVPD have three drones: two DJI Mavic Pro and one DJI Matrice 200. Currently, around 350 agencies in the United States have similar unmanned aircraft and drone programs, and that number is rising.
“Programs like these are going to explode in use in the months and years to come,” Teachout said. “It’s just such an efficient use of resources.”
The department is aware of possible negative connotations drones have, and that’s why they are hosting public talks and demonstrations to bolster community buy-in for their new technology. OVPD is adamant that the drones will not be used for surveillance or pursuits, for multiple reasons: you can’t use drones over large distances and the operation relies on line of sight.
“There is a definite education and learning curve,” Teachout said. “We need to explain to the community what we’re doing. Since some of this technology is uncharted waters, we have to take a measured approach and let the public know what to expect.”
With the town of Oro Valley continually integrating itself with technology, this new program shouldn’t be particularly out of the ordinary. Some of the region’s largest employers include Honeywell Aerospace, Ventana Medical Systems, and the technological hotbed, Innovation Park.
“I think there will be acceptance because we’re going about it the right way,” Teachout said. “There’s always people that will question ulterior motives and that’s why we’re being so public about this.”
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