COURT HOUSE – Over the past two years, the Middle Township Police Department has been conducting research and determining the feasibility of a UAS (Unmanned Aerial System) Program for Middle Township. The Department contacted several vendors to explore the capabilities of different brands and their strengths and weaknesses. Officers attended training with several police departments that already have established programs with multiple UAS platforms.
Middle Township has a very unique geography comprised of residential neighborhoods as well as dense wooded areas, marshlands and estuaries. With multiple missing person cases and water rescues it was determined that obtaining a UAS with a thermal camera would give officers an advantage trying to find someone lost or injured in certain inaccessible locations.
Conventional aerial resources such as the Coast Guard or State Police helicopters are difficult to get due to weather, the large area they cover and the prioritization of their requests. Being able to rapidly deploy a UAS with a thermal camera means we would no longer have to rely on the availability of those assets. Ultimately, the decision was made to go with the new DJI Matrice 30T for its 40 minute flight time, thermal camera and ability to fly in inclement weather conditions.
The use of UAS’s has grown rapidly in the private sector relating to utilities and infrastructure. Power and cable companies routinely fly to inspect lines and towers, likewise after hurricanes and other severe weather events the Department would be able to deploy a UAS to assess areas of the township affected, the extent of damage and locate residents that might be in distress. The Matrice 30T also has the capability of transmitting live video feeds wirelessly, which enables officers and officials to see what the UAS is seeing in real time from anywhere with internet access or cellular service. This also gives officers an advantage in dynamic tactical situations, greatly increasing officer safety.
During the study it was learned that several of the aerial systems interface with accident reconstruction software already in use by the Police Department’s Crash Investigation Team and the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office. This would enable the Department’s Fatal Crash Investigation Team to document crash scenes in such detail that scale 3D models could be developed and critical measurements can be obtained in a fraction of the time of conventional reconstruction methods. This same technology would also assist the Detective Division in the documentation of time sensitive outdoor crime scenes.
Currently, several Middle Township Police Officers hold FAA Part 107 licenses which authorize them to fly missions beyond recreational use. The Department’s UAS Team is currently comprised of six (6) officers. Having six licensed officers ensures that the UAS can be deployed rapidly in the event of an emergency. The Department has also been granted a Certificate of Authorization from the FAA which allows certain deviations from standard Part 107 flight rules due to the inherent unpredictability of emergency responses.
The Middle Township Police UAS program operates under a strict Standard Operating Procedure from the Chief of Police clearly defining the purpose of the program and outlines clear guidelines for the use and care of the police UAS. Police Chief Jennifer Pooler’s mission for the UAS program is to safely and effectively use small unmanned aerial systems to increase the effectiveness of public safety, and improve the services provided by the Middle Township Police Department.