STAFFORD COUNTY, Va. - One Virginia police department is taking the job of protecting the public to new heights, using drone technology to track down suspected criminals-- and they say it appears to be working. Just Thursday, the Stafford County Sheriff's Department used a drone during a manhunt, and on Friday, they showed FOX 5's Anjali Hemphill exactly how.
The department is one of about only 30 police departments in the country using drone technology to save lives and costs along the way.
Lt. Ben Worcester called the use of drones a game changer. He says their new fleet of drones helps them catch criminals faster and with less manpower. On Thursday, investigators say a drone helped them track down Jeffrey Owens, who is accused of shooting up a car and running from police. Deputies and K9s searched for him on the ground, while a drone was used in the sky. Video from the drone shows how police used thermal energy to spot Owens, who was wearing camouflage clothing, as he hid in the woods.
Stafford County deputies also used a drone to bust a local meth lab, giving deputies a lay of the land before they headed into a potentially dangerous situation.
Drones can also help assess the damage from natural disasters or help authorities find missing and endangered people quickly-- or to safeguard lives in an active shooter situation or any other time when they believe someone's life is in danger and an aerial perspective would help.
Deputies watch video from the drones on the ground using iPads and on larger screen TVs. The department currently has eight drone pilots who completed 40 hours of training to earn the proper certification needed from both the county and the FAA to fly them. But along with the new, birds-eye view comes some concern.
Lt. Worcester told FOX 5 the department can't just deploy a drone to watch over citizens, which is a concern for some. He said drones can't and won't be used in that manner in Stafford County.