The Hamilton County, Tennessee, Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) is upping its tech game with a state-of-the-art drone command van designed to assist in search and rescue missions, crime scene investigations and more.
The HCSO unveiled the van, referred to as the Unmanned Aerial Systems Command Vehicle, in late November to specifically help drone pilots fly their aircraft “in multiple workstations in a controlled environment.”
According to the HCSO, the van is the first of its kind to be used by a law enforcement agency in Tennessee.
The HCSO was an early adopter of drone technology and prides itself on being at the vanguard of high-tech solutions for crime fighting, reports the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Having utilized UAV drone technology since 2016, the office also has 18 certified pilots on board (including pilots from Hamilton County Emergency Management).
In just this year, the drone team has flown 670 missions for a total of 500 miles.
The van, manufactured by Draxxon, was purchased by the county cost $168,100 and will be shared by both deputies and emergency responders.
HCSO Sheriff Austin Garrett said that the van is an upgrade from a previous vehicle that was modified in-house for drone command purposes. Garrett said that other agencies in the area can make use of the drone command van as well.
“This is kind of seen as a toy by most people, but in this profession there’s a lot of areas that we can’t get to on foot and in the right amount of time,” Garrett said.
HCSO Captain Mark Hooper said the van has a 15-foot mast on the roof to enhance connectivity between the command center and the drone, while also extending the range of the UAV.
From inside the van, drone footage can be livestreamed to deputies and first responders in any kind of weather.
According to HCSO data, drones have most frequently been used in search and rescue missions and missing persons cases. They have also been widely used to locate suspects, map crime scenes and monitor large crowds at events or festivals.
Garrett said the technology saves a lot of time and effort for deputies monitoring large-scale events, while also protecting deputies in dangerous situations.
“When you got a place that’s got 10,000 people in it, and we get a report that somebody’s down on the other side, we can fly that, get exactly where it’s at and see, OK, what’s going on,” Garrett explained. “It saves a lot of time.”
Garrett cited a few instances where the agency used drones, such as to assess damage from a tornado in 2020, as well as for monitoring protests against police brutality that took place in Chattanooga.
“This is not about Big Brother … this is in direct response to a mission,” Garrett said. “The law enforcement oversight on this program is tremendously different than the private sector, so it regulates at a great level where we can fly.”
While drones cannot fly directly over private property without a warrant, lifesaving missions can override such restrictions.
Hooper said that drones are equipped with cameras, and some can perform thermal imaging and can drop small items to people in need.