"It took a helicopter to chase bad guys in the past and it was very expensive to do that," said Lt. Russell Brown. "Something that an agency our size could never possibly afford."
For a police department that's never had a helicopter of its own, the hum of an unmanned, overhead aircraft is now a pretty welcome sound.
Thanks to a gift from Bellaire Police and the Fire Foundation, the police department now has two Mavic drones and one Matrice M210 drone.
"It goes about 50 miles an hour. It's got a range of about three miles, as long as we can see it visually. It can go up to 400 feet high," said Officer Aaron Lysack, one of four licensed drone pilots with the department. "The thermal camera on it can see a human walking down the street or even a warm vehicle that was recently parked. The zoom goes up to 30 times optical and 180 times digital."
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This past fall, the drone program's capabilities were put to test when the department was called in to help West University police find a runaway burglary suspect.
"That drone was able to locate the suspect before the officers could, and basically lead officers to the suspect," said Lt. Brown.
The drone deployed a block away and found the suspect running through a backyard in the 4100 block of Darmouth, also capturing the moment he tried to get rid of a backpack.
Police say it was found filled with stolen items, including a gun.
"The drone was able to see that, document that on film and have that video ready for court if needed," said Brown.
Officer Lysack was the drone pilot on that call.
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"I think this is a big game changer," he said.
Lysack was patrolling that day with the drone packed and ready in his unit when he heard the call for assistance.
"I have the same police radio all of our other police officers have and I'm just talking directly to the other police officers."
The department has big goals for its new drone program and hope to deploy a drone as a first response to all calls from crime to traffic crashes and natural disasters.
The Bellaire Fire Department is also using the technology to check dangerous fires and find hot spots with the thermal camera.
The fire department has two licensed pilots and one Mavic drone.
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