BRICK – The Police Department will be purchasing its fourth drone since the State of New Jersey, Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, has awarded the township a $10,000 grant.
Drones are useful to the police department in a number of ways, said Police Chief James Riccio. They are used to search areas for suspects, missing persons, and even for missing animals, he said.
The department, which currently has three drones, has even utilized the unmanned aircraft system (UAS) to document flood areas, such as when sections of Greenbriar flooded in August 2018, he said.
“The drones are very useful and have become a valuable piece of equipment to assist us in a variety of situations,” Chief Riccio wrote in a recent email.
That’s true, said Brick Police Sgt. Joseph Rossi, who oversees the unit and is a certified drone operator.
“Drones certainly have their place,” he said. “They are a tool that makes the job easier.”
The department got its first drone in 2017, which cost $4,500 and was paid for by a Highway Traffic Safety Grant, which the police used to photograph serious and fatal car accidents.
“The amount of evidence you can see from the air is much greater than what you can see on the ground,” the sergeant said. “It’s incredible.”
The police department has expanded its drone usage over the past few years as they have discovered more and more uses they hadn’t considered, he said.
They budgeted $18,000 to buy a second, much larger drone that has several high-quality cameras, including a thermal camera which is useful for finding a missing person, which a regular camera would not pick up, Rossi said.
The department uses a drone to oversee events like Summerfest. The drones can be launched from anywhere, but the police try to launch them in an area that is close to where the incident is, he said.
The third drone being utilized by the department, which was also budgeted for, performs a lot of the same functions as the larger drone but doesn’t take as long to set up, and is the size of a briefcase, he said. “You take it out of the case, unfold it and it’s ready to go.”
The $10,000 grant will more than pay for the drone the department wants to purchase, which is an updated model of the first drone.
Drone technology and their uses are evolving quickly, driving the cost higher and higher, he said.
Until recently, there were four Brick police officers who had passed an FAA certification test as drone operators, but five more have been certified in recent weeks, bringing the total to nine who can operate the remote aircraft. The test costs about $175, he said.
The test and resulting certification is an FAA requirement for anyone who wishes to operate a drone, he added.
“There’s a lot of information you need to know in regards to weather, airports, aircraft – it’s more than just strictly drone operation,” he said.
“We are still doing some research into the next drone the department is looking to purchase,” he said. “There are a lot of options out there and we are trying to see what is available that will suit our needs,” Rossi said.