Drone expands Crenshaw safety, rescue services

Published 5:18 pm Wednesday, July 19, 2023

The Luverne Police Department will soon employ its new unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), better known as a drone, to enhance the ability to provide safety, investigative, and rescue services for the department as well as other agencies in Crenshaw and surrounding counties.

“Over the years of our experience, we’ve had occasions to need one,” said Luverne Police Captain Mason Adcock. “We’ve always been able to acquire one when we did. But sometimes we’ve had to wait for it to come from as far as Dothan to here. Knowing we didn’t have anything local to us that was available, we decided we should start looking to see if there was funding available.”

A 2022 community grant through the Wiregrass Resource Conservation and Development Council (WRC&D) providing the funding toward the purchase of a drone earlier this year. The equipment totaled just under $8,000 – $5,445 for the UAV plus $2,544 for a secure transport and storage box.

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Luverne Investigator and drone pilot, Sergeant John Powell, said the equipment will provide resources local agencies need to serve their communities.

“Back when I was with the [Sheriff’s Department], I had the opportunity of utilizing a drone for one of my cases which coincided with a case the state was working in Houston County,” Powell said. “We were able to recover some stolen property, a tractor in Montgomery County. This was an extremely valuable resource which helped us utilize what we needed to make the case, get a search warrant, and recover the property.”

The department is working on policies to govern the use of drones, Powell said. Once those are in place, the vehicle will support the law enforcement efforts of the Crenshaw County Sheriff’s Office and the Luverne Fire Department along with those of surrounding counties.

“I saw the value to our investigations for it, but also the value that will be helpful to other agencies and fire and rescue teams. Chief Mike Johnson and Captain Adcock also saw the value too.”

Powell attended training to operate the drone and obtain his Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) license. He will operate the DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Advanced drone, chosen for its operating life and features, for the Luverne department and other agencies.

“This one has a camera system and thermal imager,” Powell said. “The amount of flight time and the range was the most effective for our needs. There are more expensive options, but this one had the best bang for the buck.”

While the drone offers many uses, Adcock said the ability to track a suspect or missing person is among the most vital.

“Any time we pursue a suspect and have a drone up, that’s an extra set of eyes to tell us their direction and whether they are armed,” Adcock said. “A lot of times we can’t see from the ground as we are pursuing. We can discover information, like environmental threats, and convey that to officers who are the boots on the ground.”

Kip Smith, treasurer of the Luverne Fire Department, said the technology will enhance the department’s ability to perform their jobs too.

“We’ve been called out three or four times this year to search and rescue an elderly person,” Smith said. “This drone will have a thermal imaging camera to produce heat sensitive images. And with storm damage, the drone can get a bird’s eye view of a fire and we can tell how it it is, things like that. So, it will be a real asset.”

Powell said the department has not yet deployed the new drone, but expects to soon. It is his hope the technology will benefit not only Crenshaw County, but the surrounding area too, for many years to come.

“I think it’s going to be an instrumental resource for our community,” Powell said. “There’s been times when we could have utilized it quicker. Having it on hand and getting it onto the scene quicker will benefit our local agencies.”