- Associated Press - Saturday, November 5, 2016

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) - A Tucson area police department will be the first in the region to utilize aerial drones as an investigative tool.

Sahuarita police and a drone manufacturer are joining efforts on a pilot program to federally certify several officers to operate the devices.

The 3-pound devices mark a “huge and significant step” for crime scene investigations, Police Chief John Noland told the Arizona Daily Star (http://bit.ly/2e8u7oN).

Eleven officers will be trained to pilot the unmanned aircraft.

So far, police have spent $4,000 on two. The drones, which will be able to take photos and video, are expected in mid-December. They will be used for search-and-rescue operations and criminal investigations. They are expected to be able to use GPS to map and document a crime scene such as a vehicle crash. Noland said they would also be crucial when searching for a person in triple-digit heat.

Drone Control Systems, the company working with police, is providing training and materials.

The department may purchase more if there turns out to be a need, Noland said. He also assured that they would not be used for “snooping,” but at crime scenes where police have search warrants.

“I know the public has a concern about what flies over them and can take pictures,” Noland said.

The Sahuarita Police Department employs 46 officers in the town of 28,000. Their annual budget is $7.5 million. It costs about $56,000 to provide training, software and hardware for 10 officers, according to Drone Control Systems CEO James Lawrence.

Drones are already being used by federal agencies at the border.

The Arizona Department of Public Safety is also in the early stages of learning to incorporate drones. DPS spokesman Quentin Mehry said “we are in the process of getting certified by the FAA to test the use of drones.”

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Information from: Arizona Daily Star, http://www.tucson.com

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