SFPD using drones to assist with public safety, investigations

Published: Jun. 26, 2020 at 5:51 PM CDT
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Sioux Falls and Minnehaha County public safety officials now have a new tool when fighting crime or saving lives.

Just this month, the Police and Fire Department, along with the Sheriff’s Office will share two drones in which they purchased through a grant.

Whether it be a water rescue, structure fire, or a car accident that needs roads closed public safety officials in the Sioux Empire will now be able to have eyes in the sky.

Two Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), also known as drones, will now be used by law enforcement and first responders in Sioux Falls to help with situations such as search and rescue and event security.

Sergeant Kevin Henkel with the SFPD said, “When we are closing down a street for four hours, or a major intersection to reconstruct a traffic crash, we can map it in 20 minutes now and get that opened much quicker.”

Sergeant Henkel is a certified pilot. He says the Police department plans to certify seven pilots to fly the drones.

In addition to the Police Department and Sheriff’s Office, the Fire Department will also have access to drones when needed.

Henkel added, “For them to be able to see hot spots from the air will be beneficial to them, plus for water rescues, we’ll be able to get a payload system to drop life preservers and ropes and fly it to the person who is stuck. That will be a huge help to them.”

The two drones were made possible by a grant awarded to Sioux Falls Police from the Department of Homeland Security, and the unmanned aircraft are both equipped with advanced technology.

"The sensors that we have available to us now are a thermal camera, a spotlight, a regular mapping camera, and then a zoom camera,” said Henkel.

Henkel says that weather can be a challenge with these machines.

He also emphasizes that these will strictly be used when necessary.

"Any place where a camera in the air will help us is how we plan on using it.” He continued, “These aren’t a spy tool by any means, these are a way for us to do our job safer and more efficiently.”

The Police Department does say that every time they do fly the drone, they will post on social media saying when, where, and why they flew the drone to be transparent with the public.