CASE STUDY: California Police Department Choses Drones Over Airplane

Sheriff’s Deputy Scott Ballantyne and sheriff’s Pilot James Chavez

SUMMARY: Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) are typically a better option than manned aircraft for smaller municipal law enforcement organizations seeking to start an aviation program. Drones can perform many of the same missions as manned aircraft more quickly, safely, and cost effectively.

PROBLEM: The Modesto (California) Police Department was working closely with the Tulare County Sheriff's Department to develop an aviation program. The police had reached the point that it was about to purchase the same type of aircraft used by the sheriff -- a Flight Design CTLS designed specifically for law enforcement. Then tragedy struck on February 10, 2016 when the aircraft crashed killing a sheriff's deputy and the pilot.

SOLUTION: The crash caused the Modesto Police Department to rethink their strategy. The proposal to the city council in late 2015 to spend $660,000 to purchase the airplane had been met with stiff resistance. The police soon began to concentrated on developing a UAS program. The police have since purchased two drones -- at a cost of a couple of thousand dollars each resulting in a realized savings of over $650,000 to the municipality. The drones are slated to be used for specific missions such as crime scene investigations and search and rescue operations. The department is presently working on obtaining a waiver from the FAA to operate at night.

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