The Centralia City Council voted unanimously last month to purchase a drone system for the police department.
Funding for the new program includes $20,000 of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding that was originally set aside to purchase a police training simulator.
Centralia Finance Director Bret Brodersen said a grant from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs will go toward the simulator instead, leaving the additional $20,000 for the drone system.
Centralia Police Chief Stacy Denham on Tuesday evening said the system will mainly be used for conducting aerial surveillance. It will have an infrared camera.
“For example, we had that standoff over on Eckerson (Road) where we would be able to put a drone up in the air and get heat signatures to find out where people are so nobody gets ambushed,” Denham said. “It’s actually designed to help both the officers and the community be safer.”
He said the drone could assist with K9 searches and suspect tracking. Some police departments use drones with speakers, which can come in handy for deescalation, though Denham has yet to learn all the features of the model he ordered.
He said it will be delivered within the next few weeks.
The drone won’t be immediately deployed in the field, as officers will first have to undergo the associated training, which includes Federal Aviation Administration certification.
“We also have to put our policy in place which we don’t have currently because we don’t have drones. Once all of that’s in place, all the training including on how to deploy it, it could be a couple months after the date we receive it (before it’s in service),” Denham said.
The policy all depends on what the drone is actually capable of, Denham said. Overall, he is excited to be getting the drone to help his officers track suspects and safely deescalate situations.
“The faster we can get the drone in the air when someone is running, the better it is because we can track them and let them tire themselves out, deescalate and be able to get someone into custody much safer than before,” Denham said.
According to police1.com, a website focused on news relevant to law enforcement, other police departments utilize drone systems in a variety of other situations including:
• Traffic crash scene photography to aid crash investigation reconstruction
• Crime scene photography to aid with forensic investigations
• Search and rescue operations
• To search rooms inside buildings allowing officers to clear them without putting themselves at risk