W. MI police agencies use drones in COVID-19 response

Coronavirus

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Two West Michigan police agencies have a new tool in the tool box when it comes to responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

DJI Enterprise, a Chinese drone manufacturer, has donated drones to the Battle Creek Police Department and the Kent County Sheriff’s Department.

On the manufacturer’s website, DJI uses examples of police agencies, like Daytona Beach, Florida police, who plan on using the drone’s loud speaker to disperse crowds to avoid the spread of COVID-19.

But don’t expect a swarm of the drones to chase you down if you’re not social distancing in Kent County.

“As far as patrolling the streets and shouting messages … that’s not what these are for,” said Kent County Sheriff’s Department Lt. Joel Roon.

The four DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise drones donated to the KCSD will be added to the department’s existing drone fleet.

“I think it’s important for people to understand that this is a program that’s existed for over two years now here at the sheriff’s office,” Roon said.

The drones are smaller than the current fleet and are equipped with a light and a speaker.

The decision to accept the drones was based more on opportunity than a specific mission.

“Not knowing what the response was going to look like, we took advantage of obtaining these four drones,” Roon said. “And we still don’t know what the response looks like. It’s evolving every single day.”

But while they have the capabilities to perform tasks, like monitor crowds who may be in violation of the state’s stay-at-home executive order, Roon says that’s not part of the plan.

“If there’s a traditional response tactic that we can use, like responding with a patrol car with maybe a PA system, we’re going to always resort to that first,” Roon said.

It’s when that traditional approach may not work when the drones could come in to play.

“One example may be planning traffic patterns for a testing site.” Roon said.


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