Modesto Police Unveil New Crime-Fighting Drones

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MODESTO -- Police drones are now in the Central Valley. The Modesto Police Department unveiled their unmanned aerial vehicles to the media Tuesday. According to the department, the drones will help them fight crime.

The drone the police department demonstrated may look like a toy, but with black and white paint and the Modesto Police Department logo painted on, the unmanned aerial vehicle is anything but a child’s play thing.

“If I was a criminal in the city of Modesto, I would not want these flying above me while I’m running from the police or committing crime,” said Sgt. David Mullins with the Modesto Police Department.

Mullins explained that their UAV pilot program, which was launched in April, is already helping them fight crime and keep the public safe.

Currently three of their officers pilot drones. Officer Jessica Smith is one of their pilots. She was chosen because she has her fixed wing pilot license.

“[Flying the drone is] a little different to operate than an actual aircraft, but it’s… they have a lot of similarities,” Smith said.

However, there are some limitations. For instance, the drones will not fly higher than 400 feet, can only go up for about 25 minutes at a time and cannot be used at night. There are also some privacy concerns, some fear officers might abuse the drones to spy on people.

“Our policy is very strict and has been written in conjunction with the FAA on deployment for these,” Mullins said.

Mullins said the drones will only be used for official police work like search warrants and checking out crime scenes.

For instance, last week in northwest Modesto, a man suspected of robbery tried to run away from officers. Before he had a chance to make his getaway a UAV caught him on camera and alerted officers to where he was.

“It is possible that he would have been able to escape,” Mullins said.

If the program proves to be a success, the department is hoping to add more pilots and more drones.

“It makes us move a little quicker than our officers on the ground can move. It’s going to keep our citizens safer, it’s going to keep us safer,” Smith said.

The Modesto Police Department said their drone footage is subject to the same rules as their officers' body cameras. They added if anyone has a concern they invite them to speak with the department.