GRPD works to get drone program off the ground

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — They’ll fly high and look low, but from the sky they’ll serve a major purpose for the Grand Rapids Police Department.

“We need to break this cycle of violence,” said Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Payne.

Payne said he’s working to add drones to his force, but it’s going to be a challenge to get his plans off the ground.

“We’re stretched thin,” said Chief Payne. “We have to make sure we have personnel to be able to fly them and to monitor them.”

Other agencies like Michigan State Police and the Kent County Sheriff’s Office already uses drones.

A MSP trooper shared photos taken by his department’s drone with News 8.

He said he used one to document significant fire damage in a home, since it was unsafe for fire crews to survey the damage in person.

MSP said it has a total of five statewide. 

Meanwhile, Payne said he’s not yet ready to specify how many drones his department would need to be successful. 

“We’ll land on a number between one and ten that will allow us to utilize them in the most effective way,” said Payne.

The chief said it’ll cost about $300,000 to fund the drones and the personnel to manage them.

Aside from finances, he said he aims to steer public perception, as he understands some may be concerned with an invasion of their privacy.

When asked about those concerns, Payne said, “Listen to how we are going to utilize them.”

“They are just not going to be camping out over someone’s neighborhood or backyard,” said Payne. “We’re using them as surveillance; they will be used intentionally for specific incidents in the city.”

Payne said police will use the drones to cut down on response times, help monitor violent crimes, track car chases, survey crime scenes, navigate traffic reconstruction and help with search and rescue missions.

The top cop also specified when a search warrant would be needed in order to use a drone to investigate a crime scene.

“These incidents are occurring during public places, so you would not need a search warrant for them,” said Payne. “If we were to use it for a private residence, we would have to seek the approval through a search warrant, signed by a judge.”

Payne said the department is preparing to hold town halls to explain the need for drones and allow people to weigh in on the program. While those town halls were originally expected to happen in August, they have been pushed back to September due to scheduling conflicts. Precise dates and locations have not yet been announced.

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