Polk Sheriff's Office expanding use of drones during emergencies

By Stephanie Claytor, Reporter
Last Updated: Friday, January 12, 2018, 6:32 AM EST

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office is expanding its usage of drones, or "aerial devices" as Sheriff Grady Judd prefers to call them, starting Jan. 29.

  • PCSO launching new "Aerial Response Team," or ART
  • Previously, agency's SWAT team used drones
  • Sheriff Judd believes drone use will save taxpayer money

It’s part of the sheriff’s office’s launch of its new aerial response team, or ART for short. Initially, ten deputies on the day shift will be FAA certified and have the added responsibility of operating a drone during emergencies.

Judd said this team will make it easier to track down armed suspects and reduce the risk of deputies getting hurt. He hopes to expand it to the night shift if the launch is successful.

“When you commit a crime and you flee from us, now we can simply send our ART team, who will launch our aerial platform, we will identify you, and then we’ll lock the computer on you and just hover over you until our deputies take you into custody," Judd explained.

Judd said the ART team members must get a supervisor’s approval before launching the drone. Judd said deputies will be prohibited from recording the video the drones capture.

“It has to be an emergency. It has to be a missing or endangered person,” said Judd, mentioning the drones will also be used to help locate active shooters and suspects on the run.

A Polk County Sheriff's Office Aerial Response Team drone. (Photo: Stephanie Claytor, staff)

For the past ten years, the agency’s SWAT team has used the drones.

Without a drone or helicopter, Judd said the situation is much more dangerous for the deputies.

“In order to get eyes on the emergency, you have to expose your deputies to risks," Judd explained. "The risk of the guy on the SWAT callout that’s got a gun that’s periodically shooting at us. Now we have to strategically put ourselves in harm's way. We will reduce the times we have to do that."

Judd believes the drones will also save taxpayers’ money.

“If we can lift off with one of our aerial devices by our ART team and accomplish the mission without sending in our helicopter, which is hugely expensive, the more hours we can save on wear and tear of the helicopter and the cost, the better off the tax payer is,” Judd explained.

In 2017, the sheriff’s office reported spending $1.76 million on its aviation budget. Judd said he hopes the drones will help reduce that number by at least 10 percent.