Battle Creek – Battle Creek police have three new airships to fight the coronavirus.
Three drones from DJI Enterprise were recently delivered to the police department as part of the company’s Covid-19 US Disaster Relief Program.
The drones were provided free to the department for 90 days, the Battle Creek Enquirer reported. Two will be returned and the third donated to police.
DJI is a Chinese company headquartered in Shenzhen, China and has offices in Los Angeles and Palo Alto California, Washington D.C. and New York
The drones are equipped with cameras, lights and loud speakers and can be used to monitor public spaces, spot unsafe activities and broadcast messages.
Lt. Matt Robinson said the drones could be used to fly over areas where people are gathering and not following state guidelines for proper social distancing and broadcast messages.
“You have the ability to reach out to people and communicate with them without having face to face interactions,” he said. “The idea is that anytime there is a big public gathering you can provide more information on the ground about what is going on.”
Police officers and other first responders are attempting to limit their contact with other people to slow the spread of the virus.
Robinson said the drones can fly over large areas in less time than officers can patrol the same space.
As an example, departments in Florida are using drones to fly over long stretches of beach to monitor gatherings and provide messages about social distancing.
Adam Lisberg, corporate communication director for North America, said DJI designed the program to assist at disasters and the coronavirus pandemic is the first effort.
He said drones were sent to 43 agencies in the U.S. including Battle Creek police, the Kent County Sheriff Department and the Bloomfield Township Fire Department in Michigan.
The program was designed for agencies with an existing certified program so the equipment can be used quickly without training and certifying new pilots.
“We want to put the latest technology to work to make sure that you protect the people and protect the protectors,” Lisberg said. “If the first responder doesn’t have to be face-to-face with someone by keeping their distance it helps protect the officer or firefighter and the residents.”
Battle Creek officers routinely check for gatherings but have not encountered many groups, Robinson said. He added that an officer speaking to the group is enough to disperse them.
But he is glad to have the drones available if needed. “Not knowing what tomorrow will bring, it is nice to have the equipment,” he said.
“We are just trying to reinforce social distancing and we are getting compliance. With these we can get your voice closer to someone.”
The Battle Creek department was selected for the free drone program because it began using drones purchased from the company in 2018 and can immediately use the units.
The machines have been used to map crime scenes and traffic crashes and assist officers searching for missing people. Robinson said he is pleased with their successful use.
Once the pandemic is over and large events resume, like the Cereal Festival, Robinson said the officers can monitor large areas. The drone with the speaker could be used to negotiate with a barricaded gunman without putting officers at risk.
He said five officers are trained as pilots and he believes that drones will become more prevalent in the department.