Pullman Police Drone Program Takes Flight

by the City of Pullman, WA for the TLG 2019 Innovation Showcase program

Dec 19, 2018

Theme: Inclusive Leadership

In June of 2016, Pullman Police Chief Gary Jenkins began researching the use of drones in law enforcement. Chief Jenkins shared his vision of drone use with the Pullman City Council.

His vision included search & rescue, traffic coordination (such as post-game traffic for Washington State University football games), outdoor crime scene and major traffic collision documentation, tactical reconnaissance, tactical deployment (SWAT), weather event reconnaissance (flooding), Pullman Fire Department fire response coordination and tactics assistance, and enhancements to officer safety during armed encounters, barricaded suspects, and hostage situations.

The City Council approved of the program with assurances of public involvement in policy development, satisfied through a series of public meetings to solicit input. Three police officers volunteered to be drone pilots and all obtained their FAA Remote Pilot Certificates in May-July, 2017. In July 2017, and with a budget of $10,000, four drones and accessories were purchased. The Police Department hosted an “Aerial Adventure Day” at a local park in August 2017, to unveil its new drone program to the public. Regional drone & RC plane groups were invited to participate. A brochure on lawful drone operation was produced and distributed. The second annual event was held in August of 2018. PPD applied for and received an FAA Jurisdictional Certificate of Authorization (COA) to operate in two states (WA and ID) and seven counties.    

The addition of drones as a law enforcement tool has changed the way we view our response to emergencies and address community safety. We can deploy a drone to search for a suspect in a fraction of the time it would take for officers to perform the same task, and with less risk of officer injury. The drones have also assisted other city departments in conducting their operations more efficiently, such as conducting water tower inspections.

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