TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) — The Tippecanoe County Sheriff's Office has had its drone program for more than a year now. However, the department is just now learning its potential thanks to Purdue University drone experts.
The Tippecanoe County Sheriff's Office talked about drones in a press conference Monday. The drone program has been in place since November of 2016.
"The resources that we would have to call out for a traditional reconstruction investigations versus the amount of time that we're able to utilize the drone – cut that by ten-fold," said Lt. Rob Hainje.
Officers are now using drones to fly over crash scenes and view the damage after bad weather. They're also being used for search and rescues and missing persons.
"We've relied on Indiana State Police with their air support team and that could be one, two, maybe three hours waiting on a helicopter or a fixed-wing airplane to get to the scene," said Cpt. Terry Ruley.
With a drone, it's just a matter of minutes.
As of recently, the department has FAA authorization allowing nighttime drone use with a special infrared camera.
Deputies didn't realize their drone's potential until they started working with Purdue drone experts. With 3-D printing, Darcy Bullock and Ayman Habib have shown deputies how to turn a drone picture into a plastic model of crash scenes and reconstructions. That's something that could later be used in court as evidence.
Just this Saturday, deputies used the drone's thermal imaging camera after a man attempted to shoot a woman in her home in West Lafayette and then fled. The drone picked up the man hiding in nearby bushes and he was then taken into custody.
So far, six deputies have been trained to fly the drone. But Hainje said the goal is to train more officers and eventually have each deputy assigned to their own drone.
"We will deploy those drones to officers so that they are already out in the field," said Hainje.
They have to obtain search warrants to use the drones in criminal investigations. However, for crash scenes and reconstructions, they only need a flight plan.