Law enforcement drones will take to the sky in Larimer County

Law enforcement in northern Colorado want to try a tactic of transparency.

There are cameras everywhere nowadays, so six new eyes in the sky wouldn't seem to make much of a difference.

But what if the person behind the controls wears a badge? Half a dozen Larimer County law enforcement and fire departments do not want to be seen as Big Brother.

"This was kind of a self-regulation thing that we did," said Lt. Jeremy Yonce with the Fort Collins Police Department.

When the cops use their drones, they'll follow strict, albeit self-imposed rules. They must have a search warrant, consent or probable cause.

"So essentially, the exact same things you need for law enforcement to enter a private residence," Yonce said. 

However, they do not need a warrant to fly over your home or yard. You may own your house and yard, but not the air above it.

"The whole reason we started down this road a couple, more than two years ago, had nothing to do with want to use it for surveillance or look for marijuana grows in back yards or anything like that," Yonce explained said. 

The plan is to use the drones for things like fires, hazmat calls, search and rescue and crime scene investigations.

What once would take up to four hours to document an accident scene can now be done in about 10 minutes using the drone and mapping technology.

From the demonstration, new rules and even welcoming the publics' calls to dispatch to ask about the drones -- they're not trying to be sneaky.

"Contrary to a lot of public perception, it's not something where we can just quickly throw a drone in the air and be flying it," Yonce said. 

You'll know they're out there and based on battery life alone, it'll only be 20 minutes at a time.

"We're really excited. We can't wait to get live with this," said Capt. Frank Dreckman with the Poudre Fire Authority.

Each of the six Larimer County first responder agencies will work together but purchased their own drones.        

They cost between $3,000-$5,000.

"In a $38 million budget, that's a drop in the bucket, but you don't want to be cavalier with the public's funds for sure," Dreckman said. 

The Larimer County Unmanned Aircraft System Team will start using the drones starting July 1 if there is a need.

© 2017 KUSA-TV


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