Drone Pilot JobsBrookings Register | Getting eyes in sky

July 18, 2021by helo-10

BROOKINGS – A child is missing. Or a person with dementia. You need to find them as fast as possible.

If you have a drone in the air, the process can be much easier and quicker, said Brookings Police Chief Dave Erickson and Jeff West, vice president of the Brookings Police Department Foundation.

“The community has had a number of situations in the last year and even this year, where a drone would’ve been invaluable,” West said. 

He told of an incident where a dementia patient wandered off in the winter, making it imperative he be found quickly. Crews searched on the ground and couldn’t find him. A drone operator was called in to help.

“He got the drone up and found him in 20 minutes and probably saved his life,” West said.

The Brookings Police Department does not have a drone, and incidents like that are why the Brookings Police Department Foundation is raising $30,000 to buy a specialized one, the two said. 

Seeking donations

So far, the BPD Foundation has raised about $2,500 for the drone, West said.

A raffle drawing for a Smith & Wesson M&P 2.0 EZ Shield 9MM semi-automatic pistol is set Aug. 7. Tickets are $10 each, and only 200 will be printed. Tickets are available at The Exchange, the Brookings County Outdoor Adventure Center or call 605-651-0713 or 605-695-8233.

Donations for the drone will also be accepted.

Foundation members have set up tables at various businesses to get donations, sell T-shirts “and just inform people about the Foundation,” over the past weeks, West said, adding more fundraisers will be planned in the future.

“We’re accepting donations, both from individuals and from businesses,” West said, adding they have a corporate donation program, where board members call on businesses to solicit donations.

Checks may be made to the Brookings Police Department Foundation – note in the memo line it’s for the drone – and send to the Brookings Police Department. West has offered to pick up the check if you call him at 651-0713.

The Foundation has a Facebook page and West hopes to have a donate button installed soon.

Not covered in budget

Erickson knows $30,000 is a lot of money.

“It covers the drone training for a couple of officers, covers different add-on equipment for the drone, warranty and service contract,” Erickson said. It also has multiple batteries that can be quickly switched out.

“These aren’t like other drones. They go up fast and they can achieve 60 miles an hour in just a few seconds,” West said, telling how the drone can zero in on a sign so clearly the sign can be read. “They’re amazing.”

“I know there’ll be the questions: what if it gets damaged? Well, part of that cost includes a warranty where it’s replaced,” Erickson said, adding additional insurance might be purchased by the city.

Another question he anticipates is people wondering why the city doesn’t just buy a drone with tax money.

“With the city budget, there are a lot of things that are paid for out of that budget, and the police department is only one department within the whole city,” Erickson said.

Even though the police department’s budget is large, a big part of it goes to personnel and equipment like cruisers and technology. 

“If you sit inside of a police car, you’ll see the technology that is being utilized by our department every day,” Erickson said, listing a tablet and keyboard for mobile record-keeping, as well as the camera system necessary these days.

“The city of Brookings has a very well-equipped police department. As chief, I’m very pleased with what our city leaders have dedicated to the safety of this community,” Erickson said.

He also knows money is tight this year due to COVID, and all the city departments have been asked to cut expenses to the necessities. The drone – and the capabilities it has – are expensive and won’t comfortably fit in the budget that’s been set. That’s where the Police Foundation comes in.

“Our Foundation has seen that this is an important thing and has stepped up, wanting to take on the challenge of raising the funds, or at least a good portion of the funds, for this (to) not be a burden on the taxpayers of Brookings and the overall city budget,” Erickson said.

Special functions

“We refer to it as a public safety drone,” West said. “That’s really the primary purpose of it, is to help ensure the community and public safety.”

“This particular drone that we’re looking at has a wide variety of functions,” Erickson said.

“The drone that we’ll be looking at is called the Lemur. The company that makes it is BRINC,” Erickson said. See more information at brincdrones.com online.

The Lemur has night vision, as well as daytime vision, West said. It has forward-looking infrared cameras, or FLIR, which use a thermographic camera that senses infrared radiation or heat signatures, Erickson explained.

“If we’re looking for someone that’s lost, it’s easier to do so with that capability,” Erickson said, adding it also helps locate suspects.

They can use it to monitor large events, “gives us a bird’s-eye view of everything that’s going on which would enable us, if something did happen, if there was an emergency, we’d have quicker notification of that and be able to see it and be able to respond quicker,” Erickson said.

The drone is pretty tough, he added.

“If it does happen to bump into something and hit the floor, it has – they call it turtle capability – it can right itself and take off again,” Erickson said.

He plans to utilize the drone’s hardy adaptability in dangerous situations, like tactical teams use robots to search buildings or make contact with suspects.

“It can break glass and enter through a window all on its own,” Erickson said. “It has two-way communication capabilities so if we were searching a structure or if we had (a) subject that barricaded themselves in a car, we could break a window with the drone, land the drone on the hood and have a conversation with that person through our negotiator to hopefully come to a peaceful resolution,” Erickson said.

“What we’re trying to avoid is any type of scenario where we have to resort to using force because obviously that puts the suspect and the officers in danger,” Erickson said, adding the drone would be much easier to replace than an officer.

Sharing equipment

Minutes matter in an emergency. If BPD had its own drone, the drone pilot could grab it and go.

Erickson is willing to share BPD’s drone, something many agencies do on a regular basis. Although the Brookings County Sheriff’s Office has a drone, it is not as sophisticated as the Lemur.

“If another agency or department within the county needs one and they don’t have one of their own or we need to augment their capabilities, we’re absolutely going to deploy it to help because we currently do that already with our time, with our equipment. If another agency or department needs help with something, we’re obviously gonna respond and help and this would be no different,” Erickson said.

“Through the Sheriff’s Office, we’re deputized to respond out in the county, if we’re requested (to help),” he added.

21st Century policing

Erickson plans to find a pilot for the drone in-house.

“If we identify some people that are interested in becoming part of that program and piloting this device, then they will be the ones that will receive the training,” Erickson said.

The officers who operate the drone will wear an apparatus that resembles virtual reality goggles and command the drone with a controller, he said.

“They’re seeing through the camera on that drone, just like being inside of it piloting it,” Erickson said.

Learning to pilot the drone is just one of the skills modern-day police officers need, Erickson said.

The stereotype of a police officer walking a beat swinging a nightstick are gone. Officers need a variety of skills and continuing education to stay on the force, and different talents can be honed over the years. 

“It’s like a lot of specialty skills that officers have, like our detectives or our Special Response Team. They don’t come in as a police officer with those skills, but they gain those skills as they progress through their career and attend different trainings and this will be the same way,” Erickson said.

Constant training is part of a law officer’s career because changes occur all the time. They have to keep up their marksmanship and familiarize themselves with new equipment and new techniques in how to do their jobs.

“Not just in technical things, it’s law-related things, it’s mental health-related things, it’s a whole lot of things that we have to maintain proficiency at,” Erickson said. 

“We’ll identify different skill sets and abilities, but they also come to us with their interests and things that they want to pursue in their career, so we match those desires of theirs up with the needs of the department … and get them to the training that they need to be successful,” Erickson said.

Contact Jodelle Greiner at [email protected]

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There is more to being a drone pilot than just buying a machine and flying in your backyard. It can be that simple, but most of us will need to understand some drone laws before we try to take to the sky.


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