ELYRIA — The city’s police department soon will take to the skies in an effort to help find missing persons, reconstruct crash scenes and inspect the city’s water infrastructure.
City Council on Monday approved the Elyria Police Department’s request to purchase two unmanned aerial vehicles — also called UAVs or drones — from the U.S. Communities cooperative purchasing program.
The camera-equipped drones cost $35,000 each, with much of the cost to be provided from the city Water Department’s budget, officials said. The drones will be used to take video and still photos during inspections of the city’s five water towers and its distribution lines extending south from Lake Erie.
That alone could save the city thousands of dollars in costs normally incurred sending climbers up the towers to look for leaks or damage, city officials said.
Police Chief Duane Whitely said previously that another $5,000 in software will be paid from police department funds. He said Monday the purchase agreement includes a free, FAA-mandated seminar for the 11 officers he wants trained.
A second police-specific drone operations training also is in the works. Whitely said Monday he has yet to choose a vendor from several local options.
Whitely told council police will only use the unmanned aerial vehicles to help find missing persons, for crash reconstruction investigations and to assist the Water Department with inspections or the fire department at fire scenes.
The drones won’t be used to chase criminal suspects; will not be armed; may not be flown over people; and police will need a judge to sign off on a warrant to use the attached cameras for surveillance. Whitely also said the Elyria Police Department will keep track of every time the drones are put in the sky.
He said Monday he wanted the program under the umbrella of the Police Department for the sake of “transparency.”
“This is about safety for the people” of Elyria, he said. “It will save significant money in the best, safest and most efficient way.”
Some threats reportedly have made online against drones.
Because such drones or UAVs are considered aircraft under federal law, it is a federal crime to shoot them down. Violators also could be charged with destruction of government property or discharging firearms in the city, Whitely warned.