Sheriff plans to spend $10K-$20K on drone

8/13/16 - Journal & Courier

Tippecanoe County Sheriff Barry Richard told the Journal & Courier Tuesday that he is poised to spend $18,000 on a drone helicopter for the sheriff's office.

By Friday, however, Richard revised his statement, saying, “That’s depending on what equipment we end up with and the training costs.

“Eighteen thousand dollars is not what I would quote as a price," he said. "I’m just saying right now it’s more than $10,000, less than $20,000. I feel comfortable saying that.”

By comparison, Greenfield Police Department in 2014 purchased a drone — a DGI Phantom I model — for $650 and a GoPro camera to attach to the drone for $400, said Lt. J.D. Fortner.  He also said Greenfield police registered the drone with FAA and he and the police chief learned to fly it themselves. The department also adopted a general order for its operations, Fortner said.

Asked Friday about his earlier "ballpark estimate" of $18,000, Richard said, “That’s not a firm price that I’m telling you right now because I’ve not seen the actual quote. ... Lt. (Terry) Ruley was concerned that once you put together the drone, the cameras, the features in it, the training component of it — all of that — that’s when he told me it could be upward of tens of thousands of dollars. So we don’t know exactly yet.”

Richard said he doesn't have the information to compare Greenfield's drone to what his office is looking at, but he's seeking a top-of-the-line drone.

“I know it’s capable of doing the infrared imaging and so forth," Richard said. "I want it to be a very high-quality product to give us a strong resource tool to do the jobs we need and be able to use it in multiple incidents to better serve the community.

“That’s why obviously it’s a little bit more expensive than what I hoped.”

Richard became interested in purchasing one after a drone located Krista Perdue, a missing teacher who had wandered away from her east side home early June 20. The aerial images indicated Perdue's location near a retention pond southeast of her neighborhood.

Fortner said drones are ideal for searching large areas of land in a short amount of time, such as when you have a missing child who might have wandered into a cornfield.

"Mainly, we use ours for accident reconstruction," Fortner said. "We've got some pretty good photos and videos of accident scenes. You can get the layout of the skid marks and how the car traveled."

Fortner said newer versions of the DGI Phantom have built-in cameras that feed images back to a smartphone or tablet. The newer models also can use night-vision cameras or infrared cameras that detect body heat, Fortner said, noting that batteries on today's drones last longer than the ones on Greenfield's Phantom I model.

The department plans to upgrade its Phantom I to a Phantom 3 or Phantom 4, Fortner said. He estimates a Phantom 3 costs about $465 and has a built-in camera capable of beaming a signal back to a phone about a half-mile away.

Phantom 3 professional pack with an on-board camera, including a travel case, three extra batteries, triple charges can be purchased for $1,705, according to Aerial Media Pros in Costa Mesa, California. A Phantom 3 without the case and extra batteries runs between $400 at B&H Foto and Electronics Corp. in New York,  and $600 for the Phantom 3 Advanced, which does not include a battery charger or remote control.

Drone World of Yorba Linda, Calif., prices Phantom 4 drones between $1,200 and $1.400.

Richard said he does not know the model being considered, but he said Ruley does. Ruley was unavailable for comment Friday.

“There are final legal details to work out with licensing and also all the legal aspects of obtaining the drone,” Richard said Tuesday, indicating that the sheriff's office was working with county attorney Doug Masson on the issues.

FAA completes landmark rules for commercial drones

Richard said Friday that the department was not ready to make a commitment to the purchase even though Masson has a purchasing agreement under review. Masson said he has yet to look at the proposal from Skyfire Consulting in Georgia in detail.

Masson, however, said the contract appears to include consulting about FAA regulations for drones. The consultant will teach the deputies how to fly the drone, as well as handle any FAA registrations, Richard said.

Richard said once the purchase agreement is reviewed, he plans to buy the drone using commissary funds generated from inmates' purchases of supplies inside the jail. He said he also plans to use an equipment donation account.

Tippecanoe County Sheriff's Maj. Charlie Williams pointed out that neither commissary funds nor the donation account are taxpayer money.

“As soon as the legal aspects are done, we’re looking to move forward,” he said.

“That’s why we did the due diligence of going through all the attorneys getting involved, the legal reviewing of the documents, acquiring the knowledge of the registering and permits and so forth,” he said.