eyes in the sky for Merced police
By DOANE YAWGER
March 8, 2018
police now have one more tool to keep themselves and the
public safe during crucial situations — drones.
Merced Police Department has a 12-member team that will
increasingly be using a "fleet" of five "small
unmanned aerial systems" — drones — this
year as the officers become certified by the Federal Aviation
Dan Dabney heads up the department's drone unit. Last year
he was approached by then-chief Norm Andrade to put together
a program when drone usage by officers wasn't very common.
47-year-old sergeant has been interested in remote control
aircraft since he was a youngster. He used to joke with
fellow officers that one day they would be using drones
in their work — now that day has come.
key thing is keeping people safe," Dabney says. "We're
their eyes, whether it's officers, firefighters or the general
public. We're real excited to have it here."
crime suspects will run from officers, often bounding over
fences and hiding in residents' backyards. A drone can start
the search for these suspects and cover more territory much
faster than officers on foot can, Dabney explains.
also can be used in search and rescue emergencies including
those involving missing small children and the elderly.
They also will be available for the department's SWAT and
bomb squad units and in serving search warrants.
catching on really fast for public safety in general. The
technology is fantastic. It's anytime we need eyes in the
sky. The drones are equipped with GPS and are able to take
off and land in the same location. We can only record video
in the event of an incident. It's against the law to peep
into windows and we have to follow search and seizure regulations,"
average cost of the drones is $2,500; two of them were purchased
by private donors and another was seized as evidence.
Ben Dalia, along with Dabney and another officer, are the
only ones to use the drones, but it is expected all 12 officers
will have their certification by the end of the year.
the school resource officer at East Campus High, is still
going through 20 hours of department training but likes
the fact he's considered a pilot who never leaves the ground.
am getting paid to have lots of fun," Dalia says. "There's
a whole lot of redundancy built in to make sure we're well-trained.
They're super with a lot of safety built into these things.
The biggest danger is the unknown and we can reach these
areas." He also reported minor involvement with radio
control aircraft when he was growing up.
police have used the drones in three limited deployment
instances so far this year. They will be used more frequently
as the need arises.
stressed the FAA plays a critical role in officers using
drones. The FAA provides a thick manual which details flight
conditions, details of the aircraft, clouds and weather
patterns, along with when and where they can and cannot
fly. Officers are preparing for online testing of their
skills and will spend three to six months in flight training
at the former Castle AFB.
is our goal to have everybody certified. There's a lot of
studying to do. We're called 'pilots' and there's not much
different than manned aircraft," Dabney says. The drones
are registered with the FAA and it's a federal crime to
shoot one down.
a foot square and crab-like in appearance, the drones are
packed full of technology and "exist" quietly
in hardened cases in the sergeant's office. But when they're
needed, they will spring to life quickly, flying at up to
46 mph, 400 feet in altitude and into places that humans
also says the department is getting night vision technology
where thermal images are readily apparent.
someone's hiding, they will light up like a candle,"
Yawger of Merced is a semi-retired newspaper reporter and