DOVER — Drone operators and police dogs are training together at the Strafford County Sheriff’s Office.
Officials say they can search for missing people and wanted criminals using these new coordinated efforts.
“It’s a fairly new technology for law enforcement in this area, so combining K-9 teams and drones is taking different methodologies and combining them together,” Sheriff David Dubois said Wednesday morning.
The two drones and equipment used to help officers locate individuals cost about $35,000, according to Chief Technology Officer Skip Christenbury. The M210 drone has two cameras, thermal imaging and a zoom camera and weighs 10 to 12 pounds. The department’s Mavic 2 Enterprise, which weighs 2 to 3 pounds, can fly through hallways in an active shooter situation and has speakers so law enforcement officials can call out to people.
“We’re one of the lead agencies in the Northeast right now with the equipment that we have. What it does, is it provides an almost instantaneous overwatch from the air for K-9 tracking or looking for missing people. It can also provide a lot of information to firefighters for locating fires,” Christenbury said.
Christenbury said in the past they would have to call in a helicopter, which had limitations; now they can get a set of eyes in the air within minutes.
On Wednesday morning, a team of law enforcement officials trained together to learn more about coordinating efforts. Deputy Troy Pickering played the role of an Alzheimer’s patient who had walked away from Riverside Rest Home near the courthouse and was believed to be in one of the large grass fields.
K-9 Maggie, an 11-month-old foxhound, found Pickering after the drone had already located him. Her handler, Justin Seckendorf, said he follows his dog’s nose, but the drone operators can provide his team with updates when he is on the ground.
“It’s helpful. It gives us a direction where they might be, so we use both tools,” Seckendorf said.
Jasper, a 4-year-old bloodhound who works with Sgt. Kris Kerkensen, also went out on the training mission.
“Being out there, we’ve learned that the conditions, the breeze, everything takes an effect when you’re working with a dog, working with a K-9 and doing scent work,” Kerkensen said.
“It’s a great thing we have going on with the drones. Both of our dogs are very good at trailing, but we’ll take any little bit of help that we can,” Kerkensen said.
Sgt. Mark Brave ran the drill Wednesday morning. Pickering was located within 20 minutes.
Dubois said the sheriff’s office used their drone equipment during a 22-hour standoff between a homeless man and more than 70 police officers in Rochester this past November, as well as at an incident in Milton about a week ago.