Daytona Beach police to use drones for search and rescue

By Brittany Jones, Reporter
Last Updated: Thursday, August 10, 2017, 9:43 PM EDT

Daytona Beach Police Department is rolling out a new drone program they say will help save lives and increase public safety.

  • Daytona Beach police rolling out drone program
  • Drones will be used for search and rescue
  • Privacy policies will be put together

Harold Cantrell, 80, had been missing for three weeks. He was found dead entangled in trees on a fence last month after an extensive search.

Police say the new drone program could've helped with the Cantrell search, and Cantrell's son agrees.

"The quicker they can get them up and find them sooner, the better," said John Cantrell. "The longer that search is -- ours was 18 days after going through it -- it definitely wears on your family and your searchers that are out looking emotionally and physically. So that anytime you can cut short on that process with everything that happen,s and somebody's out there lost and already passed away. I think drone use would be great."

The Daytona Beach Police Department and Daytona Beach Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University campus have been working on this partnership for about five months.

"Our major function as a police officer is to save human life and that's what this is going to do," said Chief Craig Capri, Daytona Beach Police Department.

Five officers are going through the training now and will come out FAA certified pilots.

The unit will man the drones for search and rescue missions from hurricanes to searching for missing people.

"Buildings fall apart, we're walking in this debris. We're like, 'wait a second, this thing could fall on us at anytime.' Well if we had the UAS, we might be able to fly it low, program it and get it hovering, do an assessment of what's going on in there so we don't have to put our officers in danger,"  said Capri.

He said it'll aid in looking for Alzheimer's and dementia patients.

"We can search, we can look through yards. But if we had this UAS, we could fly it over 100 feet, 150 feet, get in somebody's backyard and get in areas hard to get in, we might be able to save time and save somebody's life," said Capri.

The aviation unit will start with two drones and be deployed when needed.

The chief couldn't say how much the drones will cost but he says the price of saving a life doesn't compare.

Cantrell said he knows you still need people on the ground helping through a search while using the drones, but he hopes it helps someone.

"There needs to be a quick response time, whatever that means. If it's dogs or drones or people on foot getting the word out as quick as you can," Cantrell said. "Even if you're trying to find them before they hurt themselves or pass away. I hope they can use this program and new tools to help save lives."

As for privacy, police say they will maintain proper policy and procedures, let people know when they're operating and won't impede on people's property.

The Embry-Riddle professors said officers will be trained every 24 months to keep up with the technology. The program will also provide public service learning opportunities for students. The professor said the wide view camera on the drone will provide area awareness wrapped inside a rescue skin and extra set of eyes in the sky, and take crime scene pictures.

Chief Capri expects the aviation program to take flight by the end of the year.