SCSO expands Hawk drone program

STAFF REPORT :::

The Spalding County Sheriff’s Office has expanded its Hawk drone program.

According to a press release issued by Sheriff Darrell Dix, the Hawk program began with equipment that came at no cost to Spalding County taxpayers.

“We obtained our first drone free of charge from one of our jail vendors as a part of their contract with us. It came equipped with both a regular camera and forward looking infrared camera (FLIR). The original Hawk was piloted by program coordinator Investigator Eraste Trahan,” Dix said.

Trahan said the Hawk program immediately proved to be a useful investigative tool.

“Since the first day it was fielded the Hawk has been a valuable tool. We have located missing persons, stolen property, suspects that have fled from us, and photographed and video recorded crime scenes and accident scenes. With the FLIR capability we can use the Hawk day or night. It was the FLIR camera that led to us finding an elderly Alzheimer’s patient that had been missing from his home for more than 24 hours,” Trahan said. “When we found him, he was tangled up in brush and thorns in a clear-cut area near his residence. Where he was at and the way he was tangled up made it impossible to find him on foot. When it got dark, we activated the FLIR, located him, and got him medical attention. That alone made the program worthwhile.”

Dix said the successful use of this drone was the basis of evaluating the potential expansion of the Hawk program.

“With the proven successes of the first ‘Hawk’ we decided to look in to obtaining additional units and expanding the program. Knowing that our helicopter is indefinitely out of service, we felt that having some type of air support, especially for search and rescue, was vital to our mission and the safety of the community. We looked at the use of drones, attended demonstrations, and consulted with other agencies that have drone programs,” he said. “After examining our options and looking at cost effectiveness, it seemed like a good fit for the Spalding County Sheriff’s Office. Using seized drug funds, we purchased two additional Hawks and assigned one to each set of sister shifts in the Uniform Patrol Division. The cost of the two additional Hawks complete with FLIR cameras was less than the one-year operational cost incurred for fuel and maintenance for our helicopter, so the cost to benefit ratio is unquestionable.”

By providing training to multiple personnel, Dix said each SCSO shift is equipped to fully utilize the drone technology.

“Each shift has deputies designated and trained as the main pilot and a back-up pilot. By distributing them to the shifts we will have the capability of having a Hawk available to us at nearly all times that can be rapidly deployed,” Dix said. “We are making the use of our Hawks available to other local agencies such as Griffin P.D., Georgia State Patrol, Spalding and Griffin Fire Departments, EMS, and any agency around us that calls for our assistance.”

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