Apopka police get OK to purchase 2 drones; policy set, training ahead

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Apopka Police Chief Michael McKinley

The Apopka Police Department will purchase two drones for $7,681 after unanimous approval was given by the City Council Wednesday, June 19, at the council’s regular meeting.

The drones will be used by police to search for people who are lost or missing, and for suspects being sought by the police for crimes.

“Currently, if we have a subject who runs from us, we have to use the Orange County Sheriff’s Office helicopter and we have to wait for it to respond. If they’re not available, we request Seminole County’s,” Police Chief Mike McKinley told the City Council.

“This just gives us a quick deployment to look for something like that, a subject or a missing person until we can get the helicopter here.”

McKinley said an extensive policy for use of the drones has been developed. Only officers with the rank of lieutenant or higher will be allowed to authorize use of one of the drones.

“We felt it is important to have a policy in place to use them,” McKinley said.

Commissioner Doug Bankson asked about potential privacy violations and possible liability for the city. City attorney Joe Byrd said the city’s general liability insurance will cover any issues.

McKinley said officers would be trained in the use of the drones and that a software program included with the drones will be used to record every move of the drone.

“We’ve got a long training program. Everything will be documented,” the police chief said.

In response to a question from Commissioner Alice Nolan, Chief McKinley said the drones will not be used to catch speeders.

The drones will be used more and more.

“It’s the future of law enforcement to be able to look for somebody who’s fleeing from us and to deploy immediately until we can get a helicopter there or maybe capture them before the helicopter gets there,” McKinley said.

While the police department will utilize the drones, the unmanned aircraft will be able to be utilized to help other city departments.

“Our goal is to eventually have four of them, one for each one of our watch commanders or a person on each one of our rotations, so if the fire department needs it for a hot spot, we can fly it. If public services needs it for a water leak or something else, we can fly it,” McKinley said.

Funds to pay for the drones will come from the police department’s discretionary fund that is from monies forfeited by those arrested for serious crimes.

To learn more about what transpired at the June 19 Apopka City Council meeting, pick up a copy of the Friday, June 21 issue of The Apopka Chief or subscribe today