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  • Writer's pictureCharlene Sims, Journal staff

Sheriff describes benefits of his office's drone program

Updated: Aug 10, 2023

The Linn County Sheriff's Office uses its drones and trained operators to prevent burglaries, search for lost adults and children, and scout out areas before a warrant is served. (Roger Sims/Linn County Journal)

By Charlene Sims, Journal staff

MOUND CITY – Linn County Sheriff Kevin Friend told the commissioners on Monday, June 19, that drones are being used in a variety of situations in Linn County for the sheriff’s department and possibly soon for the fire and emergency management departments.

After giving his weekly report Friend updated the commissioners on the sheriff’s office drone program and also an expanding partnership with the Community Mental Health Center of Southeast Kansas (CHCSEK).

Friend said that Linn County had received two drones from Coffey County after that county purchased new ones last year. Four sheriff’s office staff members are certified, commissioned and licensed as pilots to fly them.

Friend explained to the commissioners that because many of the surrounding counties had been experiencing auto burglaries in their parking lots during events like the rodeo, county fair and craft sales, he set up the drones in the parking lot at the rodeo last year.

The sheriff said many people have questioned the use of drones and some have even charged that it was a part of governmental overreach and conspiracies.

Friend said he explained to them exactly what they were doing: They were trying to reduce auto burglaries in the county.

Friend told the commissioners that the officers were set up in the open at the parking lot and people came up to them to see what they were doing and watch the drones.

He told the commissioners that the drones had also been used for surveillance and to check for safety of an area before going in for an arrest. Friend said that they are also beneficial in looking for people suffering from Alzheimers or dementia who are lost and for lost children.

Friend said that he is now working with Fire Chief and Emergency Preparedness Director Randy Hegwald because drones can be beneficial for a variety of uses in the county.

Commission Chair Danny McCullough asked if they could be used for noxious weed control in hard to reach areas.

Friend said that he could see helping noxious weed by locating weeds but not spraying them.

Friend explained that the sheriff’s office has had to bring in larger drones from other counties for hard to reach areas.

He is planning on using the $18,000 drug seizure money for the past year to upgrade the drone program. He said that he was in negotiations with some companies, and it would probably cost $26,000 to $28,000 to upgrade that program.

“That upgrade, when you talk about cost to the county, the sheriff’s office would be paying the lion’s share of the that,” said Friend. The money from the sheriff’s office would be from apprehended drug dealers who are coming through Linn County.

Friend reported that the drones have a 200x digital zoom camera that can allow their operator to read a newspaper from 500 feet. He said that the drone they were looking at flies at about 9/10 of a mile high.

He told them about a practice search mission where his deputies contained an area and put out a pistol and the drone operator located the pistol in a short time. He says those missions have been ridiculously successful.

He also told the commissioners another story where a drone was used to find a missing 8-year-old child who had become lost. He was found in a pond. Unfortunately, this turned out to be a recovery rather than a rescue, but the child’s body was found much quicker. A foot search is going to take much more time and labor.

In most cases every minute counts, he added.

Friend also talked to the commissioners about the expanded partnership that was happening with CHCSEK, the jail’s healthcare provider. He said that the services at the jail location would also be offered to staff during the daytime hours that the clinic was open.

He said that CHCSEK was working on a process that would allow them to bill Linn County’s Blue Cross Blue Shield provider from a kiosk at the jail. If an employee has some kind of acute illness, they would be able to go into the kiosk and see provider outside of the clinic.

Instead of having them leave off of a 12-hour shift, it’s possible they could get in to see doctor, get a diagnosis, and be back to work quickly, he explained.

“Great project, great partnership,” said Friend. He said that CHCSEK was working on rolling this out to all inmate healthcare facilities in Linn, Bourbon, Crawford and Cherokee counties.

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