Cape city council OKs purchases of drones

Cape City Council Drones

This post originally appeared on http://www.semissourian.com/story/2326571.html.

[Editor’s Note: The drones will be used by the police, fire and engineering departments.]

The city of Cape Girardeau plans to take to the skies early next year with three drones to aid the police, fire and engineering departments.

The Cape Girardeau City Council on Monday night agreed to appropriate $30,000 in unspent casino revenue to buy the drones, pay for the licensing of the unmanned aircraft and fund the necessary staff training needed to use them.

City officials hope to begin using the drones by early 2017, officials said.

Drones have become a popular tool for local governments nationwide, city officials said.

Fire chief Rick Ennis said two of the drones would be used by the police and fire departments. The other would be used by the city’s engineering department.

One of the public safety drones will be equipped with thermal night vision.

The fire chief said the drones will be able to provide real-time, aerial photos of major fire scenes that could be viewed by those in charge of the fire scene to help direct equipment and manpower where needed.

“They can be used for search and rescue,” Ennis said, adding that includes water rescues.

The public safety drones will have the ability to carry “light payloads,” Ennis said, explaining that could include dropping a life jacket to someone struggling to stay afloat in the Mississippi River.

Ennis said the drones won’t carry water.

“There is no capacity of shooting water,” he said.

At this point, plans call for headquartering the drones at the main fire station at Sprigg and Independence streets, Ennis said.

He said the city can buy the drones through a government purchasing program.

The fire chief said the drones are more sophisticated than those typically bought by the public.

Ennis said the city’s plan to use drones amounts to “just keeping up with the technology of the day.”

Police chief Wes Blair said his department will see “the biggest benefit” in using the drones to obtain aerial views of a major crime scene. Blair said his department made use of a Cape Girardeau County sheriff’s department drone to obtain aerial photos of a recent homicide.

Blair said police also could use drones to obtain real-time photos in public safety situations involving “unruly crowds” and at large public events, such as parades.

The police chief said the drones won’t be used all the time and won’t violate people’s privacy.

“We won’t be flying them over people’s private property,” Blair said.

Blair estimated two to four members of his department will be trained to operate the drones.

The police chief said he expects the drones will provide future benefits to his department that have not been recognized yet.

As for the third drone, it will be used by the engineering department to obtain aerial photos of major construction projects.

City engineer Casey Brunke said, “Sometimes in big projects, we want aerial photographs.”

Currently, the city has to pay the contractor to provide such photos, which often are posted on the city’s blog.

Brunke said her department wants the aerial images to document construction work and “make sure the project is progressing as it should.”

mbliss@semissourian.com

(573) 388-3641

Pertinent address:

401 Independence St., Cape Girardeau, Mo.

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