Law enforcement agencies from across the country are gathering in Bend this week to learn new ways to deploy drones.
Drones are used to find missing people, follow suspects on the run and to assess complex situations before sending officers into harm’s way.
The Bend Police Department has been using drones in law enforcement applications since 2016. Recent examples of successful drone deployments include following a suspect who ran from police near the intersection of 3rd Street and Brosterhous Road.
“Foot pursuits can be very dangerous for the community, for the officers, for the suspect that’s desperate and running,” said Lt. Brian Beekman, Bend Police Drone Team Manager. “We eliminated all that. We had a drone follow the person until they ran out of breath, until they stopped running. And then we directed officers in and he surrendered. There was no use of force. There were no injuries because we used technology instead of putting officers in harm’s way.”
The four-day Law Enforcement Drone Association conference in Bend includes seminars and hands-on, scenario-based flight exercises, such as maneuvering drones through an obstacle course.
Participants from 70 law enforcement agencies are updating their drone operating skills, learning new tactics and considering the potential of using drones as first responders.
“A 911 call drops or some type of incident occurs and a drone autonomously launches, flies to the scene, and provides situational awareness to first responders before they ever get there,” said Brandon Karr, LEDA public information officer. They can decide if they need to be at the scene. If it’s a mental health situation and they are not a danger to themselves or anybody else, there’s no reason for an officer to even be there which de-escalates.”
The Bend Police Department, one of the early adopters of drone technology, has a $40,000 annual budget for drones.
Lt. Beekman said that’s a smart use of taxpayer money compared to the expense of owning and operating a helicopter.