The public safety sector continues to grow and the need for police use of drones to protect and serve their communities is growing along with it. In Fort Wayne, Indiana, the Police Department Air Support Unit (ASU), first formed in 2017, is responsible for overseeing emergency service team (EST) operations. The team consists of two hostage negotiators, two licensed pilots, a lieutenant, a sergeant, and five patrol officers. This year, the team is expected to expand by adding another sergeant and three more patrol officers. Additionally, an officer was assigned full time to the unit to assist with day-to-day operations, such as drone maintenance, managing a budget, and training assistance.
In 2021, the ASU team responded to 217 calls for assistance: EST overwatch, fatal crash team reconstruction, outdoor crimes scenes, subjects that were fleeing from the police, missing children and adults, and radio tower inspections. The city Fire Department also requests the services of the ASU team to assist with large fires and to find hot spots when mapping the scene after a fire.
The team trains about three days per month. One day is dedicated to indoor drone operations, during which the team works with EST robot operators and specific tasks in order to advance the team’s operation capabilities. The other two days are dedicated to educating the team about new equipment and software, revising policies and procedures, and perfecting the team’s workflow.
While many cities’ police and fire departments have introduced drones into their efforts, the City of Fort Wayne Drone Ordinance makes things a little different for the ASU team. In 2021, this ordinance was revised to include limitations on drone operation in not only the downtown aerial district, but also near airports, hospitals with helipads, and military areas. The ordinance does not require pre-approval for operation in these areas, nor does it outright prohibit such activity, but instead requires the drone pilot to submit a form that goes to the ASU team in order that the drone operations in these areas are documented and the team is aware of these operations to keep the public safe.