Officers in the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith Police Department will soon be implementing leading-edge technology as part of a collaborative effort with the university’s unmanned aerial systems academic program.
As part of the department’s commitment to professional and departmental development, UPD Chief Ray Ottman has announced an ambitious new goal to incorporate unmanned aerial vehicles - commonly known as drones - into UPD operations.
“We’re really excited about expanding the application of this technology,” he said. "Drones are seeing a surge of applications in law enforcement and emergency services across the country. Be it police, fire, search and rescue or incident response, this technology allows you to cover a lot of area without putting a person in a dangerous situation, and it allows us to gather important information and report data back.”
At UAFS Ottman hopes the drones can be used to improve maintenance response, traffic patterns and event management. “On campus, our biggest event is commencement. The opportunity to learn from the data we could capture at a commencement event is excellent. We can look at traffic patterns and identify where vehicles are coming to a bottleneck, where can we deploy additional resources and how we can more efficiently direct traffic flow.”
As the UPD aircraft gather photos, videos and other data points, students enrolled in the data Analysis track of the unmanned aerial systems program can assess the records, documenting coordinates, measurements, and environmental conditions and gaining valuable real-world experience.
Officer Hunter Bruce is heading up the application of the drones on the force, having recently participated in an intensive training course on UAV operations, regulations, and safety and earning his Federal Aviation Administration Part 107 License to pilot small unmanned aircraft commercially.
Prior to every flight, Bruce runs through a complete safety scan, taking into consideration campus conditions, weather conditions and the university's proximity to the Fort Smith Regional Airport.
“I first look at the area of operation on campus and the probability of risk for that specific flight area.” Then Bruce submits a detailed flight plan to the local control tower and FAA office. Based on the height of the drone flight for the specified area of operations, Bruce will receive a near-instant approval with a flight waiver number or will wait for a manual approval process, usually completed within 72 hours. “Once I have the approved flight application, I submit it and the detailed flight operation to Chief Ottman for final approval. Once all flight operations have been approved by the FAA and Chief Ottman, I will initiate the flight operation.”
During the flight operation, Bruce calls in to UPD dispatch and logs the start and end of the flight as well as any flight notes.
“We’re really excited about the numerous applications of the drone program,” Ottman said, “and officer Bruce has taken to it really well.”