• Georgia sheriff adds drone to office's crime-fighting tools

    By: BECKY PURSER, The Telegraph of Macon

    Updated:
    WARNER ROBINS, Ga. (AP) - The Houston County Sheriff's Office has debuted its latest law-enforcement tool, an Inspire 1 drone.

    Sheriff Cullen Talton said he thinks the drone has all sorts of benefits like finding missing children and fleeing suspects from traffic stops.

    "I want to assure the public it will not be used for spying, but only for law enforcement purposes," Talton said Friday.

    Lt. Kent Bankston said deputies who fly the drone must log when and for what purpose the drone is flown, and sheriff's incidents reports will also be filed for all drone flights.

    "You just can't get out there and fly around just to be nosy," Bankston said. "You gotta have a reason for doing what you're doing."

    For example, the drone can help the sheriff's response team, a tactical unit, when they serve a search warrant or respond to a crisis situation.

    "We can actually fly over the house and get a good idea of where everything is located," Bankston said.

    Or, on a traffic stop, if you have somebody who runs into the woods you can actually fly it over the woods, he said.

    And deputies can get the drone up in the air pretty quickly, Bankston said.

    The drone was officially unveiled at a news conference Friday, but it's actually been deployed twice already.

    In April, the drone was used to help search for the suspect in a killing in a wooded area off Ga. 247, and in checking out a capsized boat in Houston Lake near the dam on May 18, Bankston said.

    Sgt. Darron Jones, one of the drone pilots for the sheriff's office, said the drone can take photos and capture videos.

    "It has a flare camera which picks up on heat signatures, and as a result, it assists with allowing us to locate someone in hard to see areas," Jones said.

    The drone could also aid the county's fire department in a natural disaster, or help locate people who are lost on a river or a lake, Bankston said.

    "It's not just for the sheriff's office," Bankston said. "We can also use it for the Houston County Fire Department as well as other surrounding agencies here in Houston County."

    Jamie Hamlin, owner and operator of Warner-Robins based Drones of Prey, was credited with helping the sheriff's office negotiate the purchase of the drone and with Federal Aviation Administration approval.

    "There's a lot of red tape involved in getting a public-safety entity up and running, and I know how to get through the red tape quickly, and I wanted to provide that for my hometown sheriff's department," said Hamlin, a retired fighter and drone pilot who's been doing aerial film work for about 15 years.

    The drone is valued at more than $16,000, Bankston said.

    "It's definitely something that's cutting edge," he said.

    ___

    Information from: The Telegraph, http://www.macontelegraph.com

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