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Pullman police want to go airborne with drone

In this April 14 file photo, a drone captures videos and still images of an apartment building in Philadelphia. The Pullman Police Department is exploring the possible use of a drone to help it police the community. (Matt Rourke / Associated Press)
In this April 14 file photo, a drone captures videos and still images of an apartment building in Philadelphia. The Pullman Police Department is exploring the possible use of a drone to help it police the community. (Matt Rourke / Associated Press)
By Josh Babcock Moscow-Pullman Daily News

The Pullman Police Department hoped to begin patrolling by air in the coming year.

The department had budgeted $10,000 for a quadcopter in 2017, but the purchase may need to be pushed off a year with the department facing about $112,500 worth of already delayed capital improvement projects – like station repairs, a crime-scene mapping device, police station remodeling and an additional patrol car – and the city encouraging department heads to be frugal due to it anticipating expenditures to exceed revenues by about $1.1 million next year.

Pullman police Chief Gary Jenkins said the department will examine budgets and determine what expenses will be undertaken in 2017 during a mid-year budget review in July.

“We may not get it this year, but if revenues come in strong we may get one this year, or hold off and get one the following year,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins said he’s been in talks with the Renton, Wash., Police Department to examine the uses of drones and how to attain approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to deploy them.

He said the department’s battery-powered remote control drone would have four rotor blades and would be used to map outdoor crime scenes, determine how major traffic collisions unfolded, oversee weather events, find ways to ease the flow of traffic during congested times, monitor evacuation during emergency situations, find fire and people during structure fires, monitor SWAT operations, locate individuals during search and rescue events, or monitor public disturbances, like riots.

Jenkins said an aerial view could have been used just last week, when the first accumulation of snow this season hit the Palouse and caused dozens of collisions throughout the city.

“Theoretically, we could have sent out that quadcopter to see the extent of the accident and deploy the resources,” Jenkins said. “It would have helped prioritize those accidents and which ones to go to first. … This can, in many cases, do the work for a number of personnel. It’s an eye on things we can’t see from the ground.”

He said the drones being considered by the department are similar to those found in stores and are about 3- to 4-feet wide and would include a video camera.

“That could give us real-time information,” Jenkins said. “We may discover there are other features we would like to have.”

Jenkins said the drone wouldn’t be purchased without public and city input.

“We will get public input on the use of the drone just like we did when we installed cameras at Adams Mall,” he said. “There is a balance here for right to privacy and legit law enforcement use.”

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