Drones help deputies fight crime in Hernando County

Law enforcement agencies, including the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office, are turning to drones to help fight crime. 

HCSO launched the Unmanned Aerial Systems Unit about two years ago.  The agency has a fleet of nine drones and nine licensed deputies who fly them.  

Each member has a control unit in their patrol vehicle, ready to jump into action when a call comes through. 

So far, the drones have been deployed more than 200 times.

"We can tell how high we are, 83-feet," said Corporal Michael Woodward.

He leads the UAS Unit.  Woodward says the drones are quicker, quieter and less expensive than a helicopter. 

The technology makes crime-fighting easier, while also saving resources.

"This is more of a force multiplier to our Air Unit. Our deputies, or our pilots, can get to a scene and we can launch in a matter of just a couple of minutes," said Woodward.

Aiding with everything from lost children and missing people, to a bird’s eye view of large crowds or spreading fire.

Last month, a drone deputy tracked down two grand theft auto suspects.  The pair sped away from a traffic stop in a stolen car, and then were spotted running through a neighborhood.

"Within minutes he was able to find each one of the suspects and guide deputies into where they were so that they can be apprehended," Woodward said.

The FAA, state law, and department rules restrict how drones can be used.  For example, drones cannot conduct surveillance, cannot be used to gather evidence, and the sheriff’s office does not record on its drones due to privacy concerns.

The technology is also taking off at other departments.  HCSO has helped Bay Area agencies start their own drone units, and Woodward believes it is a trend that will only continue to grow.

"I think it's up and coming. And I think in the years to come, you're going to see more and more," he stated.

Over the summer, a bill was signed into law that expands law enforcement’s use of drones.  However, it is still highly regulated.

LINK: Read the new drone law here