The Somerset Police Department will probably be the first police department in the state to use unmanned aircraft or drones.
The department received its certification from the Federal Aviation Administration in October and recently bought a 2.8-pound unmanned aircraft. Somerset Police Department Capt. Shannon Smith, the department's only pilot, recently returned from the Airborne Law Enforcement Association's Unmanned Aerial Systems training course in Houston. The training was part of the FAA requirements for public agencies, including police departments, to use drones. Smith said he is training other Somerset police officers to operate the drone, which costs roughly $1,800. It's likely that the drone will first be used by the end of summer, Smith said. The department has developed policies and procedures for using the unmanned plane.
The department bought a gyroplane — a small manned helicopter— in 2012 and uses it now. The drone will be used when it's not safe for the gyroplane to fly. The drone will be used for search and rescue, fires and other emergencies. The department could use it to gather evidence in criminal cases as well, Smith said. But the department must obtain a search warrant before it can be used, Smith said.
"It's not a privacy-invasion tool," Smith said. "We will have to go to a judge on a case-by-case basis."