The Ashe County Sheriff’s Office could be purchasing a drone for certain activities, following the approval of monies by the Ashe County Board of Commissioners in the sheriff’s budget for the device.
“(The drone) does aerial surveillance,” said Carolyn Gentry of the Ashe County Sheriff’s Office. “It is equipped with a camera and so forth and what we would use it for at the Sheriff’s Office is to recover items that are hidden in the woods.”
The drone, known as a Parrot AR Drone 2.0, sells for approximately $300 and includes a flight recorder where the person controlling the drone can view the images from a cell phone. The drone has a control range of 165 feet, and Gentry said it had enough range for the department’s purposes.
Weighing at approximately four pounds, the drone is equipped with a 720 pixel high definition camera with a wide angle lens, and looks similar to a model airplane. The drone can take screenshots and record live video.
“We could cover a lot of area quicker,” Gentry said. “We feel like it would be very beneficial for that.
Aside for looking for missing items in the woods, the drone could be used to look for missing children and senior citizens as well as searching open areas for marijuana plants and other drugs.
“A lot of times our criminals around here will hide stuff in the woods and you know it’s on the mountain,” Gentry said. “To put personnel in there to search a dense area can be hard, so we could fly the drone over and help find it.”
Gentry said the idea of purchasing the drone came from the ACSO’s narcotics department, but could potentially be used by all departments of the ACSO.
“It would be a variable use product and it’s very inexpensive, $300 is not much,” she said. “The benefits I think would certainly weigh in on the cost.”
Initially, commissioners Judy Porter Poe and Gerald Price had serious concerns about the ACSO being in possession of drones. Price had concerns about having the drone fly over people’s houses without a warrant, but Gentry said it would be illegal for the ACSO to use it in that way.
“If you want to go look and see what’s in my backyard, you could not use the drone for that,” she said. “Now if it’s a felony in progress or something like that, we could use whatever we needed to in order to prevent damage.”
Commissioner William Sands expressed his support for the drone saying it could help protect the safety of officers. Commissioner Larry Rhodes also echoed that viewpoint.
“I see it as a tremendous advantage for (officer’s) safety and the places they have to go to,” Sands said. “Most people don’t realize the dangers they are facing.”
On Thursday, June 5, County Manager Sam Yearick confirmed that the money allocated for the drone remains in the 2014-15 FY budget.
Wil Petty can be reached at (336) 846-7164 or on Twitter @WilPetty.