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Las Vegas event focuses on using drones to help keep public safe

Officers were able to find a suspect hiding inside a bedroom and conduct negotiations without needing to enter the home, thanks to the Metropolitan Police Department’s use of a drone.

That situation, which occurred last month, was one of several highlighted by Metro officer David Martel during an InterDrone conference panel discussion Thursday on drone use by public safety officials.

The annual InterDrone conference, held Tuesday through Wednesday at the Rio, bills itself as the largest commercial drone show in North America.

“We’re testing aircraft for indoor use so we don’t have to send officers into a house or building,” Martel said. “We can send the drone first to try and find the suspect and make contact with him.”

Martel said the department has six drones and is hoping to add more, but cost can be a hurdle.

Commercial drones can cost between $3,000 to $10,000 with some requiring a monthly software fee.

“We would like to see them out on the street on patrol,” he said. “It’s just so convenient. If a sergeant can have it in their car and something happens they can go and deploy [the drone].”

Officer Matthew Slawson of the Torrance Police Department in California emphasized the safety drones can provide for officers, citing situations where suspects have fired at drones.

Martel said suspects also have fired shots at the department’s drones.

For Riley Beaman, director of the North Carolina Public Safety Drone Academy, drones have become a key part of recovery efforts following natural disasters.

Beaman joined the panel halfway through as he and his team were on an emergency call with North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper to strategize how to deploy drones as the state is now being hit by the Category 2 storm Hurricane Dorian.

“Our coastline is being hit by tornados and hurricanes at the same time so we already have teams in the air and we’re trying to mitigate that from [Las Vegas],” he said.

Being able to quickly respond to an emergency situation and having a bird’s eye view are benefits of deploying a drone, Martel said.

He said detectives in the units decide when to use drones.

“Officer-involved shootings — they’re going to use the drone,” he said. “It saves money too so we don’t have to put the helicopter out there and take it away from patrol.”

But Martel emphasized drones won’t replace Las Vegas’ air support unit.

“We don’t ever foresee that,” he said.

Contact Subrina Hudson at shudson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0340. Follow @SubrinaH on Twitter.

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