WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (FOX 13) - It’s a bird. It’s a plane. But in Polk County, it may be a sheriff’s office drone. The Polk Sheriff’s Office now has one of the biggest drone fleets in law enforcement in the entire county.
The drone patrol has now grown to 29. They are ready to fly seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
“Every 12 year old has got a drone,” Polk Sheriff Grady Judd told FOX 13. “Certainly, we should use them for a law enforcement purpose to keep people safe.”
They are used to survey the damage after natural disasters, like Hurricane Irma, and to track suspected criminals.
Judd said they are a quicker and cheaper alternative to sending up a chopper, which costs $500 an hour to operate.
Recently, detectives said someone saw suspected burglar Joseph Williams running from a house. Minutes after they called the sheriff's office, a drone went up and began following Williams. Other deputies were called, and a perimeter was set up.
“The guy went walking right into our canine, and they took him into custody,” said drone pilot, Deputy Richard Kilborn III.
This new high-tech eye in the sky comes at a price. The drones used during the day run about $1,600. The ones that fly at night are much more complex because they utilize infrared technology. They cost about $27,000.
Even though drones may be considered a priceless addition to the law enforcement arsenal, Judd is determined that innocent citizens are not going to pay the price by having their privacy invaded.
“For those who think 'They’re going to fly over my house and look around,' no, we’re not,” Judd said. “We’re only using them during emergencies. If we use it any other time, we need to get a court order.”