Donated Drone to Help Starr Co. Sheriff's Office be More Efficient

9 months 4 weeks 15 hours ago Monday, December 30 2019 Dec 30, 2019 December 30, 2019 9:01 PM December 30, 2019 in News - Local

RIO GRANDE CITY - A Rio Grande Valley law enforcement agency believes they'll be more efficient in their mission to serve and protect.

Starr County is known for its proximity to the border and brushy ranchlands. These can and do pose challenges to law enforcement when they're trying to find people.

Monday's donated equipment can help virtually eliminate some of those obstacles.

Weapons and manpower are currently among the Starr County Sheriff's Office arsenal. Even then, it's not always enough when every second counts.

“Looking for individuals that are lost in the wooded area, like in the brush, floaters in the river, kids that are missing,” says Sheriff Rene Fuentes.

Sheriff Rene Fuentes's office is adopting the new tool. “Like having eyes in the sky,” he says.

“We kind of design ours as a quick-deploy. So, in thirty seconds you're up in the air and able to get on the scene,” explained Jeff Powell, vice president of Autel Robotics.

The drone is from the National Public Safety Drone Donation Program, or NPSDDP, who received the equipment from Autel Robotics.

After a year and a half of helping agencies receive this tool, the NPSDDP chose its first law enforcement agency and the first also along the border.

“Quite frankly, a lot of people can try to cross the border and sadly get lost or die in the desert. That was part of the request made by Officer Rios; he stressed that. And there are some areas in here that are prone to flooding. So, having situational awareness with the drone like that would really benefit the community,” says Mark Langley, founder of National Public Safety Drone Donation Program.

Starr County did see a high number of migrants crossing the border. Some didn't make it. The drone can help lessen the number of casualties.

“A lot of the times when we have a body, it's very hard to get to. With the help of this drone, we'd be able to pin-point maybe an easier access road or a better waterway to get to that body,” says Lt. Erasmo Rios, Jr.

The drone is equipped with GPS and thermal imaging to help find people anywhere, day or night.

“For example, if they were flying and saw a suspect and got over and looked down, snapped a picture, they'd know coordinates-wise where that suspect was, or body, or whatever the case may be. They have the ability to broadcast live,” added Langley.

Starr County may be on the border, but domestic crime will also be in the drone's sights.

“This will help us process the scene, get an aerial view of exactly what the back of the house looks like. And in tactical operations as well, if we need to encompass a residence, rather than just having boots on the ground and seeing it from four different angles we'll actually have the aerial view of it which will definitely help us in our planning phase,” says Rios.

The office received the drone and the drone lighting completely free of charge.

Although they receive help from federal agencies, they hope this will help make them more independent and faster in responding to call across their county.

Another benefit to the drone, the product maker spokesperson says it won't automatically shut off when it approaches restricted air space.

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