Rockford police to use drones to find missing people, fleeing suspects

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Rockford police are unveiling a new tool to combat crime in the Forest City.

Unmanned aerial drones will now be deployed to assist in police investigations. The department gave a demonstration of a new drone in action at its District 3 headquarters on South New Towne Drive on Wednesday morning.

The drones were donated to the Rockford Police Department (RPD) from a non-profit organization called Drone One, Inc., which was stared by former Winnebago County Forest Preserve President Randy Olson. Olson started a fundraising effort to equip the department with the drones.

“The success of them is very prevalent [in cities like Elgin], and that’s, of course, why we are using the same technology,” said RPD’s Assistant Deputy Chief John Pozzi.

Three officers received FAA training to operate the drones. The robotic officers can fly as high as 400 feet, and be remotely piloted up to 3 miles.

Pozzi says the police won’t send out drones without an officer.

“We operate our drones visually, so it’s line of sight,” Pozzi said. “Our operators are always close and visually see the operation of this piece of technology.”

The drones are the latest investment in technology for the new department. Pozzi believes this will allow officers to thoroughly investigate a major crash or crime scene in a fraction of the time it would take land-based officers.

They can even be used for search and rescue operations.

“If ever there is an event where we have, for example, a missing child or a missing adult, maybe in a densely forested area, [the drones] can be put up to assist ground units in searches,” Pozzi said.

Other uses for the drones will include large crime scene mapping and aerial security and intelligence. 

What do private residents feel about the departments new eyes-in-the-sky? Is there a concern for the potential of an invasion of privacy?

“I can definitely see why people can be worried about how the police can watch every move we’re doing, and what we’re up to,” said Rockford resident James Boyer.

“I don’t think so,” countered Mark Ruiz, another resident. “I really don’t. I mean, there’s accidents all over Rockford and if that’s going to help us be quicker with helping people, then I think it’s for the better.”

If the initial deployment of the drones is successful, Pozzi says the department could add to its fleet in the future.

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