Bouder County’s drone technology helps with crime, rescue missions

On the roof of a Longmont FirstBank, a suspect on the run from police was at last spotted.

That September night, a man, who would later be identified as Augustus Cropp, 21, rode an ATV throughLongmont in an alleged crime spree, first threatening people with a weapon that would later be determined to be a BB gun. Police said Cropp also attempted to steal a delivery truck, broke into a house and stole clothes and trespassed at the bank, where an employee saw him and called police.

Rather than sending police up to the roof in search of Cropp, Longmont police Sgt. Jason Malterud said they first piloted a drone to the his location to provide a complete picture of the situation.

“We actually didn’t have to put anybody on the roof, which is very unsafe for the suspect and for us,” Malterud said. “We could put the drone up there and look. We saw him and gave him commands. He complied and came down to us.”

If not for the drone, Malterud said police likely would have had to contact the fire department for a ladder truck. The situation is one of many in which public safety officials have used unmanned aerial systems to assist in operations.

The high-flying technology has ushered in a new era of crime fighting and rescue techniques. With drones at their disposal, authorities have located suspects fleeing from justice, found missing people in the wilderness and been able to capture invaluable information in a short span of time.

Police operations

Malterud, who leads the Longmont Police Department’s drone program, has seen firsthand how the technology makes  police jobs safer.

Drones became available to Longmont police about two years ago and the department has four in its arsenal, providing police with visual intelligence and a high-tech eye for locating suspects on the run.

For example, a suspect fleeing Longmont police hid in a wooded area, Malterud said. Canines searched the area to no avail, but a drone’s thermal technology, which detects heat, was able to pin down the man’s location.

“We would have probably walked away and never caught him, without that technology,” Malterud said.

In the Longmont Police Department’s traffic unit drone, technology can provide a complete overview of major crashes. The images captured provide more details and visual understanding than a 2D picture, Malterud said.The technology also helps in search and rescue operations, as well as  capturing aerial crime scene photos and the aftermath of traffic crashes, which Malterud said can provide useful information during court proceedings and jury trials.

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