DeWitt County unveils drone program

Amber Aldaco By Amber Aldaco

Nov. 28, 2017 at 9:21 p.m.
Updated Nov. 29, 2017 at 7:51 a.m.

DeWitt County Sheriff Carl Bowen turns on one of the department's quadcopters before a demonstration for the media Tuesday in Cuero. The sheriff's department bought two drones and a trailer that has been converted to a model flight station through forfeited money and community donations.

DeWitt County Sheriff Carl Bowen turns on one of the department's quadcopters before a demonstration for the media Tuesday in Cuero. The sheriff's department bought two drones and a trailer that has been converted to a model flight station through forfeited money and community donations.   Evan Lewis for The Victoria Advocate

CUERO - With the sound of a buzzing beehive, the DeWitt County Sheriff's Office's newest drone levitated and flew out of sight Tuesday morning outside the DeWitt County Sheriff's Office.

In the official unveiling of the agency's new unmanned aerial vehicle program, Sheriff Carl Bowen demonstrated in what capacity the new program will serve.

"This program is designed to enhance law enforcement capabilities," Bowen said.

The agency began looking into drone programs about five years ago, he said.

"We live in a rural area. There's a lot of woods, there's bodies of water, there's a lot of terrain. And it's hazardous," Bowen said. "It's ideal to have 'eyes in the sky' that can look down and see what the officers are approaching."

The program finally became a reality this year through forfeited funds and donations from Devon Energy, Weaver & Jacobs Constructors and Partners Chevrolet Buick GMC. The new program cost about $30,000.

Bowen said he appreciates the contributions from the local businesses.

"One of our pillars for community engagement is supporting safe communities. We are thrilled to partner with the DeWitt County Sheriff's Office as they apply new technology to keep this county safe," said Becky Escott, a community relations supervisor for Devon Energy.

The program includes two drones with night vision; two Crystalsky monitors; controls; six batteries for each craft; a battery charger; and a trailer to house the drone materials. The trailer also doubles as a small, makeshift office for a deputy or officer. The trailer includes a desk area; maps of DeWitt County, Cuero, Yorktown and Nordheim; and a radio.

Bowen said program training began a couple of months ago. The agency have tested the drones in different weather conditions, such as 100 degree heat and in cold fronts, he said. The drones can fly up to 400 feet.

One of the drones, a DJI Matrice M100, was used in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey for the sheriff's office to assess flood damage, Bowen said. In addition to damage assessment, the drones would be used to locate missing persons and get an aerial view of accidents.

"They are extremely reliable and liability is everything," Bowen said.

The drones would be available to other DeWitt County agencies, such as police and fire departments, as well.

Cuero Fire Department Fire Chief Buddy Harwell said he was impressed with the drones. For the fire department, the drones would be useful in situations, such as search and rescue, to check the roof of a building on fire, and at vehicle accidents to fly above and check for injured people.

"It's a great tool to have in the toolbox," Harwell said. "You cut your risk and time way down with drones."

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