Durango police have a new tool, and it’s already helped nab two suspects – The Journal

The $5,000+ drone features a speaker, searchlight and thermal camera

Officer Dan Kellermeyer flies the Durango Police Department drone Friday at the Three Springs Substation. The drone cost between $5,000 and $6,000 and has already been used to help track down two men suspected of beating and robbing their girlfriends. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Two Arizona men suspected of beating and robbing their girlfriends earlier this month in South Durango have been captured using a drone, a new tool in the crime-fighting arsenal of the Durango Police Department.

The 2-pound device is equipped with a zoom camera and a thermal camera for night searches. Accessories include a speaker and spotlights. It cost between $5,000 and $6,000, said officer Dan Kellermeyer, who is licensed to fly the drone.

DPD chief Bob Brammer said the drone could be used for a number of applications, including searching for criminal suspects; help reconstruct traffic accidents; the search for lost children or Alzheimer’s patients; and give an overview of a potentially dangerous situation, such as a fire or a dead end.

“The list could go on and on,” Brammer said. “I think more about the positive aspects. … To locate people safely and bring their loved ones back to their families or to places where they can be cared for.

The Durango Police Department drone is equipped with a thermal camera with different screens. The camera can help locate suspects at night, help find lost people, or see if a car’s engine is hot. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

One of the first uses was to track down the two Arizona men suspected of assaulting and robbing their girlfriends.

The assaults were reported around 4 p.m. on April 8 near the La Plata County Humane Society, according to an arrest affidavit. The men were on vacation with their girlfriends. All four had been drinking most of the day, and an argument broke out in the Walmart parking lot.

The women began walking north on the Animas River Trail towards their hotel room, according to the affidavit. The men followed, and at one point the men allegedly assaulted the women and took over $2,000 in cash.

“After beating them, they actually kicked a woman while she was down and then stole a purse and some money,” said Cmdr. Department spokesman Ray Shupe.

The men fled into thick bushes near the Animas River trail. Instead of chasing the men into the bushes, where the suspects could ambush the police, the officers retreated and experimented with the drone.

After about four hours, the drone camera captured the men as they exited thick brush and entered a car. They were accompanied by a third man who was not involved in the assaults, Shupe said.

Police followed the car and initiated a high-risk, i.e. firearms, traffic stop just south of Home Depot. Both men were arrested and charged with robbery, assault and domestic violence, according to Shupe and court records.

Durango Police Department drone accessories include a speaker, spotlights and a flashing light for night flight. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Brammer said the drone was purchased this year using grants from last year.

“It was our first real deployment of this technology, and it was a great success,” he said. “It gave us some patience, it gave us some distance and time to really respond to something that was going to be a safer approach to dealing with kind of violent people.”

This kept officers from finding themselves in a high-risk situation, he said. Officers were able to mobilize and come up with a plan using the drone, he said.

“People always go into flight mode or fight mode, and they could have either attacked our officers or surprised them, and that could have resulted in a real negative confrontation,” Brammer said.

The department shared a 51-second video clip showing the suspects returning to their car and driving away. Brammer said he wants the community to know that the department uses the latest technology to fight crime, including cameras on Main Avenue and license plate readers.

Cameras and automated technologies can expand officers’ capabilities, allowing them to do more with less, he said.

“As long as these technologies are used for the right reasons at the right time and in the right places, I don’t think there’s a problem with that,” he said.

It is likely the drone will be used to photograph and map crime scenes and crash scenes, he said.

Kellermeyer, the lead pilot, went to flight school before becoming an officer, which gave him the necessary knowledge of Federal Aviation Administration regulations and made his studies a little faster than most pilots in beginner drones.

For the most part, police must follow the same rules as anyone else flying a drone, including height restrictions, not interfering with established airspaces, not hovering over crowds, and keeping a line of sight to the drone. But police can request emergency waivers from the FAA to circumvent the rules, for example, going beyond the line of sight in emergency or disaster situations, Kellermeyer said.

He said flying the drone is quite user-friendly. The device can hover in place without constantly making adjustments for the wind, and it can be programmed to fly in a grid pattern, which helps in mapping or photographing areas.

“Using the gamepad is very much like playing a video game,” he said.

Durango Police Department officer Dan Kellermeyer demonstrates different types of thermal imaging that can be done with the department’s drone. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Durango Police Department officer Dan Kellermeyer demonstrates different types of thermal imaging that can be done with the department’s drone. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

A camera allows police to zoom in up to 32 times, and the thermal camera allows police to search for heat signatures at night. This can be useful for searching for suspects lurking outside or seeing if a car’s engine is hot, he said.

“Cameras pretty much raise the price of drones,” Kellermeyer said. “I don’t think the body and the propellers themselves are that expensive, but when you start getting high-end cameras, that’s really when you start getting the price increases.”

The drone is used on a case-by-case basis and it is not used for random surveillance, he said.

In the future, he said he would like to see the department purchase a smaller drone that can be used to help clean homes or buildings so officers don’t have to physically travel to potentially dangerous locations. without first peeking through the drone. .

“A big thing in security for us is being able to use this drone to put it in places where we don’t necessarily want an officer to put their face,” he said.

shane@durangoherald.com