Lower Township Police Announce UAS Program
In 2021 the Lower Township Police conducted a study into the potential use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS). The Department contacted several vendors to explore the capabilities of different brands and their strengths and weaknesses. Officers attended training with the Gloucester Township Police Department, which already has an established program with multiple UAS platforms. Lower Township's unique geography comprises residential neighborhoods, densely wooded areas, marshlands, and estuaries. With numerous missing person cases and water rescues, it was determined that obtaining a UAS with a thermal camera would give officers an advantage in finding someone lost or injured in specific inaccessible locations. Conventional aerial resources such as the Coast Guard or State Police helicopters are challenging to get due to weather, the large area they cover, and the prioritization of their requests. Being able to deploy a UAS with a thermal camera rapidly means we would no longer have to rely on the availability of those assets and could be used to assist when those assets are available. Ultimately the decision was made to go with the new DJI Matrice 30T for its 40-minute flight time, thermal camera, and ability to fly in inclement weather conditions.
The use of UASs has increased in the private sector regarding utilities and infrastructure. Power and cable companies routinely fly to inspect lines and towers; likewise, after hurricanes and other severe weather events, the Department would be able to deploy a UAS to assess areas of the township affected, the extent of damage, and locate residents that might be in distress. The Matrice 30T also can transmit live video feeds wirelessly, enabling officers and officials to see what the UAS sees in real-time from anywhere with internet access or cellular service. This also gives officers an advantage in dynamic tactical situations, significantly increasing officer safety.
During the study, several aerial systems interface with accident reconstruction software used by the Cape May County Prosecutor's Office. This would enable the Township's Fatal Crash Investigation Team to document crash scenes in such detail that scale 3D models could be developed and critical measurements could be obtained in a fraction of the conventional reconstruction methods. This same technology would also assist the Detective Division in documenting time-sensitive outdoor crime scenes.
Currently, Lieutenant Brian McEwing holds an FAA Part 107 license authorizing him to fly missions beyond recreational use. The Department has five other officers that have just completed training with the anticipation of testing for their FAA Part 107 licenses before the end of the year. Having six licensed officers ensures that the UAS can rapidly deploy in an emergency. The Department has also begun applying for a Certificate of Authorization from the FAA, allowing certain deviations from standard Part 107 flight rules, including flying after dark, upon approval.
The Lower Township Police UAS program operates under a strict General Order from the Chief of Police, clearly defining the program's purpose and outlining clear guidelines for the use and care of the police UAS. Police Chief Kevin Lewis's mission for the UAS program is to safely and effectively use small unmanned aerial systems to increase public safety effectiveness and improve the services the Lower Township Police Department provides.