WENY News - Special Report: Protection from Above

Special Report: Protection from Above

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ELMIRA, NY (WENY) -- Back in June, a search and rescue team used a UAV to find lost hikers in Colorado's Pike National Forest. It took about two hours -- shaving time off what could have been days of searching. Three months later, a woman in Indianapolis, Indiana went missing. After emergency crews had no luck locating her, a heat sensing drone was called in. Within 15 minutes of deployment, the woman was found safe.
     
And here in Elmira, flames broke out earlier this year, leaving severe damage to a home. Authorities, using the department's UAV, were able to assess it and lend a hand in the investigation.
     
Across the country, UAV's like this one are becoming vital tools for law enforcement.

"There's many ways this is an asset to us," says Joseph Kane, Elmira Police Chief. "If you consider us as police officers in a courtroom, we can consider all the conditions of a scene at the time, but each of those twelve jurors may have a completely different image of what they see by our description. This allows us to get right past that,and provide a true and accurate representation of a crime scene."

"It can be fire investigations, it can be the inspection of a top of a building," says Eduardo Orapallo, an Elmira Police Officer and UAV Operator. "Instead of calling fire departments in and a ladder truck, we can take this up and ten minutes later we're done with the entire inspection."

It's also about accuracy. Departments are utilizing UAVs to recreate the lead up, impact and aftermath of car accidents. 

It's all part of what's giving departments a tactical edge.

For the Elmira Police Department and the hundreds of other departments nationwide looking to implement this technology, it's about efficiency and saving officers time in a dire situation. However, the process to get there isn't an easy one.

"We wanted to make sure if we were going to use this technology that it was legal and that we adhered to all standards by the [Federal Aviation Administration," says Orapallo. 

That meant becoming the first department in Upstate New York and undergoing a near two-year process. The Federal Aviation Administration requires departments to undergo specific training and authorization before they can operate any sort of UAV.
     
The department purchased its device back in 2015 using drug-asset money.
     
Even now, the device has restrictions. It cannot be flown any higher than 400 feet and must stay within their jurisdiction of the Elmira city limits.

"I think the word drone is sometimes misinterpreted or people might think we're doing certain things with it," says Kane. "We're not doing things we shouldn't be doing. We're not going around looking for crimes, we're simply documenting the crimes that have occurred."

And it's not just officers these UAVs are serving. Here in Elmira, the community can also benefit.

"The technology is changing," says Kane. "In the future we may be able to use it to find a missing person or if a child wanders off."

"It's going to be more efficient [and] it's going to be more cost efficient," says Orapallo. "Instead of blocking roads, making the general public have to reroute their patterns because we're conducting an investigation, we can do a lot of things in about ten minutes."

That's peaking the interest of other area departments. The Chemung County Sheriff's Office, who declined an interview, says they've begun exploring ways to implement their own.

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