breaking news

Man dies after shooting in western Palm Beach County

Extra eyes in the sky — drones — to aid Gardens police and firefighters


Catching the bad guys, putting out fires and finding missing kids just got a little easier for Palm Beach Gardens police and firefighters.

The police department and fire rescue each has a new, buzzing, battery-powered drone. Four people between the two departments are certified by the Federal Aviation Administration to operate the aircraft. Community donations paid for the drones, which each cost several thousand dollars.

To read the latest headlines from Palm Beach Gardens, go to palmbeachpost.com/gardens.

The pricier fire rescue drone has a thermal-imaging camera that can detect, for example, a hidden source of fire in a burning house or the body heat coming from a missing adult with dementia who wandered in the woods.

Palm Beach Gardens Police Chief Stephen Stepp and Maj. Paul Rogers emphasized the drones will only be used for specific missions, not widespread surveillance.

“By no means will we use it to spy on people or anything like that,” Stepp said. “Because it’s new, we’re going to err on the side of privacy and safety.”

The department’s policy mirrors strict state law controlling drone use by law enforcement, Rogers said. The drone will record any time it’s on an official mission until it lands and turns off. Footage that’s gathered by the drone and stored on a memory card will be kept according to the retention schedule determined by the type of incident.

The drones are relatively easy to fly. The hard part is operating them safely with other aircraft. The drones fly at 400 feet above ground level and are never to leave the sight line of their operators. The departments worked with the Trauma Hawk air medical transport program to make sure the drones don’t interfere.

Safety mechanisms are built in. For instance, if the drone loses contact with the transmitter controlling it, it lands where it took off.

Unlike the costlier alternative of a helicopter, the drones can be deployed in seconds for a search and rescue mission. Those seconds can make a big difference in the search for a missing autistic child who’s drawn to water, Stepp said. The drone can scan the canals, lakes and pools in a whole neighborhood in the time it takes police to knock on a few doors to ask people to check their pools.

The fire rescue drone with a thermal-imaging camera allows firefighters to see flames in hidden places before going inside a burning building, EMS Division Chief James Ippolito said.

The drones can also be used after a major disaster such as a hurricane to quickly survey the damage and deploy resources to the hardest hit areas, Ippolito said. If access to a community is blocked by downed trees or wires, emergency responders can see what’s ahead with the drone.

If there was a train derailment in which hazardous materials spilled, the drone could quickly identify them, Ippolito said.

Neither drone has flown a mission yet, but emergency personnel are optimistic about the technology’s capabilities.

“The possibilities for the future use of these drones — it’s just amazing,” Rogers said.

Facebook users, follow @postongardens for the latest news and updates.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

BREAKING: Man dies after shooting in western Palm Beach County
BREAKING: Man dies after shooting in western Palm Beach County

A man has died in a shooting in western Palm Beach County in the vicinity of The Acreage tonight, authorities said. The suspected shooter was caught at the scene, a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman said. Deputies responded around 8:30 p.m. to a call about the shooting in the 11000 block of Mellow Court. They found the male victim...
High-tech helicopter is Martin County’s secret weapon in tracking criminals
High-tech helicopter is Martin County’s secret weapon in tracking criminals

Doug Newsom has an unparalleled view of crime. From the pilot’s seat of a helicopter, the Martin County Sheriff’s Office deputy searches for suspicious activity and anything out of the ordinary. He searches for adults and children who have been reported lost or missing. He watches for criminal activity, sometimes catching — and recording...
Attendance, signs go down as Gardens gun show faces ‘awkward’ timing
Attendance, signs go down as Gardens gun show faces ‘awkward’ timing

Attendance dropped as much as 90 percent at a gun show 52 miles and four days removed from Florida’s deadliest school shooting amid controversy over how prominent signs should be and whether the event should be held at all, the show’s promoter said Sunday. “It was very awkward timing,” said Kevin Neely of Brooklyn Firearms Co...
Parkland school shooting: Trump to meet with students this week
Parkland school shooting: Trump to meet with students this week

President Donald Trump will reportedly hold a listening session with students this week following Wednesday's deadly school shooting that took the lives of 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County.  A White House schedule says Trump will host students and teachers Wednesday. He’s also scheduled to meet...
Father of Sandy Hook victim doubts major change after Parkland shootings
Father of Sandy Hook victim doubts major change after Parkland shootings

As events unfolded Wednesday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Len Pozner was “transported right back” to December 14, 2012 when his 6-year-old son Noah and 25 others were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Law enforcement authorities in Broward County said that Nikolas Cruz, 19, confessed using an assault rifle to kill...
More Stories