Local police departments wants to add drone, introduce body-worn cameras

Officer Alex Brennaman, of Miami Twp. Police Department, pilots one of the departments two drones in June 2020. Police Chief Charlie Stiegelmeyer recently told township trustees he wants to add several different camera-based devices to the department, including an additional drone, body-worn cameras and license plate readers. CONTRIBUTED
Officer Alex Brennaman, of Miami Twp. Police Department, pilots one of the departments two drones in June 2020. Police Chief Charlie Stiegelmeyer recently told township trustees he wants to add several different camera-based devices to the department, including an additional drone, body-worn cameras and license plate readers. CONTRIBUTED

Miami Twp. Police Department is looking to add several technology-based options to increase intelligence-led policing.

Police Chief Charlie Stiegelmeyer recently discussed with trustees his goal of expanding the department’s drone program. Introduced in June 2020, the program includes two of the devices and has seen approximately 25 usages via two staffers licensed to operate them, Stiegelmeyer said.

“These have ranged from locating people who ran from police on foot into areas around the mall to helping, barricaded suspects, identifying homeless camps, locating lost people, and surveying accident scenes,” he told this news outlet.

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The department’s drones were provided via grant money, Stiegelmeyer said, adding start up cost for an additional drone is approximately $4,500. That includes both the drone and the operator training/certification of an additional staffer, he said.

The addition of a third licensed drone operator would give Miami Twp. police one drone operator for each shift in case there is any type of emergency, Stiegelmeyer said.

Stiegelmeyer said an office initially approached him about bringing drones into the police department.

“At the time I was very skeptical because drones are still new to us, there’s a lot of unknowns and just finding out what niche it would actually fit to help the police department was something that we needed to work out,” he said. “Unfortunately, it didn’t take us very long. Drones have a vast amount of uses, especially in a township such as ours.”

Areas on the township’s west side are still “very rural” and areas to the east that are urbanized, Stiegelmeyer said. Drones help the department in a variety of ways, include being able to provide a bird’s eye view of crime’s being committed in real time, such as an active shooter situation, without putting an officer in harm’s way.

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Drones are especially during the pandemic because they can be used to scope out a crime scene or vehicle crash without exposing an officer via close contact, Stiegelmeyer said. Yearly maintenance for the drone program is approximately $1,500, he said.

Administrator Ron Hess used “very good out-of-the-box thinking” to secure funding for the department’s existing drones, Stiegelmeyer said.

Miami Twp. police plans to add eight LPR cameras to the major egress points of the community. Storage, maintenance and installation costs are approximately $20,000 annually.

The devices are mounted to poles and capture license plates, vehicle descriptions, persons on bicycles or other vehicles and records them on still frame pictures or short recordings that go to a cloud storage system. That information is then fed into a data base, which is connected to National Crime Information Center, a data base law enforcement uses when entering stolen vehicles and missing /wanted persons.

While body cameras are not yet in use for the department’s 42 sworn officers, Stiegelmeyer said he believes they will become a necessity “in the near future.”

Township police already operate in each of their patrol vehicles a Watchguard video and audio system with a microphone attached to the officer.

“While our officers do get the opportunity to be audio recorded within a certain distance of the vehicle, if they are not right in front of the car within a close proximity of where that (cruiser) camera is, we lose that type of interaction being captured on audio and video at some points,” he said.

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Body cameras will integrate what the department has with its Watchguard cruiser video camera system and allow each of the officers to have a body-worn camera that would capture both audio and video and “seamlessly” transfer from the vehicle camera recording device onto the officers, depending on where there are inside the vehicle, Stiegelmeyer said.

Initial start up is what is inhibiting the department from adding the devices, with the hardware alone costing at least $130,000, he said. Yearly maintenance would cost approximately $25,000.

Assistant Chief John Magill said MTPD has, over the last few years, carried out demonstrations and reviews of several systems that deal in body-worn cameras, including Axon, Watchguard and others, but there is no timeline for the implementation of them.

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