HAMPTON, Va. - Drones are getting more familiar. There's the whir, the buzz, the speed and then the bird's eye view. The technology is making its way into police and fire departments across the country, including Hampton.
"Ultimately our entire premise of the operation is to provide another layer to keep our community safe," said Sgt. Mark Kincaid, the Commander of the Joint Police/Fire Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Unit.
The joint unit was two years in the making. St. Kincaid said they wanted to make sure all the proper protocols were in place for citizen safety before even one drone was purchased.
There are six firefighters and six police officers in the joint unit. All of them are cross-trained, meaning police officers can do what the firefighters are trained to do and vice versa. They can do a variety of things with their drones, from post-disaster assessments to fighting fires. They can also locate high-risk suspects on the run.
"Let’s say I have a suspect heavily armed lying out here. A felon out there. We have canines that can go out there and locate, officers can put out a screen and try and find him. But if the suspect is in a contained location, we can come out here, put an aircraft over the area, locate the suspect and get an exact location of him and be able to see is he armed? Is he not armed? What is he wearing? What is his condition? Is he hurt; not hurt? This is important information to develop tactics to move forward," said Sgt. Kincaid.
The fire department has a special flir camera, which shows thermal imaging to help when they're fighting fires. The incident commander can use the flir camera to look for hotspots in a building and guide firefighters to enter from a less dangerous part of the structure.
"He can see, okay it's safe to do it or it's not safe to do it," said Sgt. Kincaid.
There are a few different drones in the unit. The unit believes they are cost-effective and the mission can be done just as well.
When it comes to safety, the drones don't have any SD cards inside to ensure if the drone doesn't make it back to the unit, the footage doesn't get into the wrong hands. The officers also don't start recording until their target or objective is in the frame so citizens' privacy isn't in question.
"Being able to use this technology to provide not only security and safety for our citizens but for our firefighters and police officers to give them that edge," said Sgt. Kincaid.
Earlier this year, the City of Virginia Beach used drones to monitor College Beach Weekend. Departments small and large around the country are turning to the technology to help them better serve the community.