Small law enforcement agencies using drones to tackle crime

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Departments say it's like having the benefits of a helicopter without the hefty price. (KFSN)

It's a helpful tool to combat crime at your fingertips, and more North Valley police departments are using drone technology to keep you safe.

The Los Banos police department started its drone program earlier this year. Commander Jason Hedden is the first FAA licensed officer on the force.

"Sheriff Departments and Police Departments with very expensive aviation programs were the only law enforcement agencies to have this asset, so for us, it's beneficial to have this bird eyes view from the sky to help us see what's going on," said Hedden.

The drones help officers cover more ground during search and rescue situations and investigating crime scenes.

Recently the drone was used as they served a search warrant while looking for a shooter on the run.

Chief Gary Brizee says it keeps officers a step ahead, "It improves officer safety and allows us to operate in a little safer environment than we could before to see around corners, see in backyards when you couldn't before."

The Merced Police Department is also taking advantage of drones

They have 12 officers slated to become licensed drone pilots, are working to include heat infrared technology to their fleet.

Merced police say when requesting aircraft, it can sometimes take up to an hour. With drones, they can take one out of their trunk, and have it up in the air in just minutes.

There are some challenges, the officers have to be licensed before taking off.

The licensing process takes quite a bit of time and a lot of dedication by the officer to go thru the faa program, said Merced Police Lt. Jay Struble. "Ideally it'd be nice to have 3 or 4 of them at a time out on the street.

Both departments were recently authorized to take flight at night.

With technology constantly evolving, officers say this is just the beginning.

"You look down the road of drone technology, and really limitless on some of the ideas you can pursue," says Chief Brizee.
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