Maricopa becoming first Phoenix-area police department to use drones in tactical situations

Posted at 5:19 AM, Sep 08, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-08 09:52:03-04

The Maricopa Police Department will be the first in the Phoenix-area to use a drone in tactical situations. 

"You're looking for those tools to be able to increase your manpower," Chief Steve Stahl told ABC15. "You may have a barricaded subject in a house -- you want to be able to view that enclosure, so to speak, from a safe distance."

The DJI Matrice 600 UAV is made of carbon fiber and equipped with six propellers. It can lose two of them and stay airborne, Stahl said. The department is finishing up modifications with Innovative UAS in Tempe that will add a two-camera system -- HD with 3x zoom and FLIR thermal -- and improved GPS transmitters.

"It'll be able to detect heat sources so that if a child is scared or is hiding, or something like that, we'll be able to see the heat source and send the officers to the heat source."

The department is hoping to have seven sworn and civilian employees trained to use the UAV by mid-October.

Two people are required to operate the drone and all will be certified to fly during the day or at night as needed. The unit will fly at the FAA maximum 35-miles-an-hour, can stay up for 35 minutes and has the power to haul twelve pounds. 

"We're in what's called a Class G airspace, so there's no manned tower out here to have to talk [with] to clear airspace to be able to use this technology," Stahl said, adding that helped speed up Maricopa's process of getting the program off the ground. 

In terms of privacy, Stahl said all the same rules apply when using the UAV for investigations or surveillance. Court-issued warrants will still be required as they are now. 

"Technology keeps changing and we'll keep pressing the limits," he said.