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Wed, Oct 05, 2022

Ohio County to Replace Sheriff’s Helicopters with Drones

Change of the Guard

The Sheriff’s Office of Hamilton County, Ohio—the home county of the Greater Cincinnati region—is retiring two of its MD-500 series helicopters and replacing the venerable machines with drones. Henceforth, when citizens go missing, or suspects flee, or surveillance and security need seeing to in Hamilton County, drones, not helicopters, will be dispatched to do the requisite seeking and snooping.

At a meeting with county commissioners, Hamilton County Sheriff Charmaine McGuffey described the helicopters as flying dinosaurs. “Drones are the future” McGuffey asserted. “They are very easy to use, and they are not nearly as expensive as a helicopter.” McGuffey continued: “We spend $3-million every year on our helicopter program … That’s not even counting the cost of buying the actual helicopters which we did some years ago.”

In 2017, the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department upgraded an MD500E it had been operating since 1989 to an MD530F. The department also operates a NOTAR-MD520N. The aviation unit is staffed by two full-time pilots and two tactical flight officers. Hamilton County encompasses 240-square-miles.

Sheriff McGuffey stated the drones by which the helicopters will be replaced cost $20,000 each, and offer better picture-quality, infrared capability, the ability to zoom, and faster response times insomuch as the contraptions will remain perpetually afield in the trunks of deputies’ patrol cars.

“We can have a deputy close to that location … over there within five minutes,” McGuffey argued, “get in the trunk of their car, pull out the drone, send the drone up with infrared [cameras], with photographic capability, and find that child. The immediacy of that situation can’t be understated.”

The Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department currently operates seven drones, and plans to add eight more to its fleet. McGuffey made the announcement in conjunction with her appeal for a $15-million budget increase by which to supplement her department’s manpower and equipment.

The drones to which Sheriff McGuffey aspires can operate in relative silence at altitudes as high as 400-feet AGL—attributes highly conducive to covert surveillance, hostage situations, security, and the monitoring of public gatherings.

In addition to suspect detection and pursuit, deputies will use the new drones for courthouse security, to monitor the Hamilton County jail’s perimeter, and measure and reconstruct accident and crime scenes. Properly equipped, modern drones are capable of extrapolating data from aerial photographs and creating 3D images of the ground over which they fly. Such images are useful to prosecutors.

Speaking to the disparities between legacy and modern means of crime and accident scene analysis, Hamilton County Sheriff’s Corporal Matthew McGourty remarked: “How we used to measure scenes was with a tape measure and a rolling measuring wheel.”

Cincinnati police made their first Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV)-assisted arrest in September 2021. The incident saw a suspect who’d doggedly and protractedly eluded officers on the ground discovered atop a six-story building by a drone.

FMI: www.hcso.org

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