Drone would give Joliet police another tool for public safety

Brock A. Stein | 9/29/2017, 7:40 a.m.
It was during an emergency response exercise in 2016 that Joliet Police Chief Brian Benton began to see the value ...

It was during an emergency response exercise in 2016 that Joliet Police Chief Brian Benton began to see the value of adding a new tool to his department’s law enforcement resources.

The exercise which involved a simulated train derailment required emergency responders to get an overview of the situation determining whether hazardous materials were leaking and in what direction in an area that was inaccessible by car.

“During the exercise we were completely limited in our ability to see that without sending people on foot,” said Benton who said that in a real world situation, similar to the derailment that occurred in Plainfield this summer, responders have to get a quick assessment of the extent of a leak and the existence of noxious plumes of gas.

After that exercise, it was former City Manager Jim Hock who first recommended the department look in to the feasibility and usefulness of a drone for the police said Benton.

Benton said that his department plans to use just over $26,000 the city will receive from two justice assistance grants to purchase the drone which he said will be used for evidence collection in auto crash site reconstruction and for search and rescue operations.

In crash site reconstruction, Benton said that a drone will be used for collecting video evidence of the overall site “in a manner that you couldn’t get from the ground.”

Benton said the drone will also help with search and rescue operations for which police routinely get called to help find elderly residents who wander away from nursing care facilities as well as for missing toddlers.

“We see that as a very valuable role that a drone can play in helping us to find either elderly or missing kids,” he said.

Benton said that two officers have been assigned to receive drone certification and complete the research on best practices, uses and other insight they can gain from other departments, like Elgin, who have a drone in use. He said they’ll look at sample policies for their use, learn FAA regulations and even research the drone models best suited for different climate conditions he said. So far, only two officers will be drone certified said Benton but others like evidence technicians could be trained as the department learns more about it and its usefullness.

“Before we spend the money we want to make sure that we’ve done our homework,” said Benton.

He said that he plans to keep the drone’s use narrowly focused on crash reconstruction and search and rescue to ensure members of the public who may be concerned about privacy issues associated with drones.

“We are well aware of the civil liability concerns that have been expressed with the law enforcement use of drones,” said the chief.

“We have no plans to use the drone as a pervasive surveillance tool.”