In October 2018, the Lee’s Summit Police Department welcomed a valuable new partner to the force. Among a list of strengths almost too numerous to mention, this department member has perfect vision, maneuvers the tightest spaces, never takes a break or needs a vacation, weighs just 2 pounds — and can fly.
This latest addition to the city’s police force is a drone, and the first device of its type in the department’s equipment lineup. The $5,500 state-of-the-art unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, presents new possibilities for police work and services, while also increasing safety for officers.
“This is truly life-saving technology that can serve first responders and our community,” said Sgt. Chris Depue, Lee’s Summit Police Department’s public information unit supervisor. “It becomes our eyes from the air, and we can put the drone in harm’s way rather than an officer. We’d rather replace the drone than one of our officers or K9s.”
As an assessment or information gathering tool, the device can serve as an immediate first responder, before an officer or K9 enter a dangerous situation. The drone can help document crime scenes, map crash sites, and conduct search-and-rescues. It can also locate victims trapped at a fire scene, indicate the safest way into a burning building, or detect a criminal during tactical operations.
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A year ago, Depue and others from the department began researching drones, their use for police work and funding assistance to purchase the equipment.
After attending regional meetings with other agencies, Lee’s Summit decided on the drone that would best serve their department. In September, the department obtained partial funding for the purchase from a local nonprofit, HeroFundUSA.
Founded in 2016, the local organization helps fund safety equipment for first responders in the line of duty. The group also provides financial and other support to families of first responders at times of critical injury or death.
HeroFundUSA was cofounded by Darrell Smith, Richard Seithel and Sam Silvio, all former fundraisers for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
“Police officers and the International Association of Firefighters were always big supporters of MDA and we got to know them like brothers and sisters,” Smith said. “They do so much to help others, we wanted to do our part to help them.
“We discovered there wasn’t an organization helping to provide equipment that would keep them safe, while they keep us safe. So, we decided we’d become ‘the first responders’ first responder’.”
HeroFundUSA serves first responders in all lines of service. They provide turnout gear for firefighters, as well as body armor, and ballistic vests and helmets for police and EMTs. They also fund high-tech equipment, such as thermal-imaging devices, robots and drones for all of these departments.
Since obtaining the equipment and putting it into operation last fall, Lee’s Summit has been in the process of training seven officers to become FAA-certified drone operators.
According to Depue, the training is extensive and has its challenges.
In addition to learning the technology of their specific drone, operators must learn how to navigate varying wind velocity and adverse weather conditions. Drones are typically flown at 300 to 400 feet, a lower altitude than most aircraft, yet operators must control the drone’s flight pattern under the guidelines of air traffic safety guidelines required of all aircraft.
“Operating a drone is also very intuitive,” Depue said, “So, the knowledge has to be balanced with the intuition.”
“We’re also training our officers to be photographers, so they can produce the best evidentiary photos from an aerial platform.”
With training underway, several Lee’s Summit police officers will soon be FAA-certified drone operators and working with their newest partner to provide even more life-saving services to Lee’s Summit residents.
Contact HeroFundUSA for more information about first responder equipment donations or to make a contribution.