The Kendall County Sheriff’s Office will add a drone to the agency’s emergency response equipment arsenal.
County Sheriff Dwight Baird told the county board at a recent meeting that his office has purchased a drone at a cost of $29,114 from DJI, a China-based manufacturer.
The majority of the funds to purchase the drone came from the HIDTA (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area) Board, Baird said. HIDTA is a grant program that aids federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies that operate in areas determined to be critical drug-trafficking regions of the United States.
According to Baird, the remaining $3,500 in annual insurance will be paid by the sheriff’s office, Sandwich, Plano, Yorkville, Oswego and Montgomery police departments as a group.
“We will be the owner of it, and it will be housed here [in Yorkville],” Baird said.
The primary use of the drone, according to Deputy Commissioner Jason Langston, will be for public safety issues such as disasters like flooding, fires or missing individuals. Langston recalled a situation in 2017 where a senior citizen went missing and said that having a drone to fly over an area would have been a “much more efficient” way to handle the situation.
“It’s a very beneficial tool for the sheriff’s office,” he said.
The drone, a DJI Matrice 210, will feature thermal imaging and a camera, which can aid officers in search and rescue operations.
“Sometimes young children wander off into cornfields. With the increase in our community of senior living [facilities], we’ve experienced some of those [incidents] as well as municipalities with people that wander off,” Baird said. “So we really feel that this will be a good asset for life-safety issues as well.”
Due to the risks that come with operating a drone, Baird said deputies have begun a training program with the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), which will cover the restrictions that come with operating a drone, along with flight plans and FAA rules and regulations.
“It’s treated like a small aircraft,” Langston said. He also offered assurances that the drone will have strict parameters, regulations and necessary forms to allow for its use that would not include monitoring communities or acting in a patrol capacity.
In addition to missing persons and catastrophic situations, the drone will be used to assist in HIDTA investigations in rural Grundy, Will and Kendall counties. Though it will be used for other purposes, Langston said, the drone will be owned by and housed at the Kendall County Sheriff’s Office.
The sheriff’s office has also discussed using the drone in cooperation with local fire departments, to aid in water rescues. At the county board meeting, Baird said that a demo will be scheduled with local fire departments to show how the drone may be helpful in those situations.