Drone technology offers new view on fighting crime in Richmond

Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Four unmanned aircraft are now in the hands of the Richmond Police Department.

Capt. Michael Snawder — who’s in charge of the new drone program that was unveiled Thursday — told 8News it’s been two years in the making. He calls the drones a game-changer in Richmond and they’ve already been used to help officers in the field.

“As a professional police department, as technology advances, I think it’s incumbent upon us to adapt if we think that it could save lives and help in our mission with public safety — and I believe these do,” said Capt. Michael Snawder.

Pilots go through intensive training to fly these devices under FAA standards. There are already about 20 people certified to fly, the department said.

“We can put them in a patrol car and deploy them in a matter of five or 10 minutes,” Snawder said.

Drones may be called in to help with crash reconstruction, barricade situations, or even monitoring an armed person from a distance.

In some scenarios, RPD says they’d need a search warrant before using the drone. Snawder says they’ve already been used several times.

“We were able to convey to a person who was armed that we wanted them to drop the weapon and I was to — with the UAV — confirm that from 15 stories above,” Snawder said.

A drone pilot even showed 8News how they can get a clear view above buildings. And while this program is still getting off the ground, the sky is the limit for using this technology in the name of safety.

“We want to get a few missions under our belt, get our feet wet, let the program advance, let the citizens see some examples of its uses, and then certainly we’ll consider getting more aircraft,” Snawder said.

Police on Thursday talked about the obvious outdoor uses for these drones, but they’re planning to use them inside, too.

Snawder says a drone could be eyes inside of a building or school, keeping officers at a safe distance in a crisis. And it’s a way to monitor situations on the river, even before putting units in the water.

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