Grand County Sheriff’s Department purchases new drone with FLIR system (with video) |

Grand County Sheriff’s Department purchases new drone with FLIR system (with video)

Lt. Jeff Bachman with the Grand County Sheriff's office stopped by the Sky-Hi News offices last week to show off the department's recent drone purchase.
Lance Maggart / Sky-Hi News

Earlier this year the Grand County Sheriff’s Department purchased a new unmanned aerial system, more commonly referred to as a drone.

The drone, a DJI Matrice 210, is the third drone the department has purchased over the last several years and represents are marked step up in capabilities for the rural law enforcement agency. Weighing in at roughly 10 pounds, not including the drone’s additional camera equipment, the Matrice 210 will provide the department with additional resources to utilize in search and rescue operations, structure fire assistance calls, and any potential future manhunts; along with any other uses the department might deem worthy in the future.

The Matrice, which is commercially available to the public, has a setup scheme similar to many popular civilian drones and operates via a quad-copter design with four solid plastic blades extending out from the drone’s main compartment. It has been upgraded with both a 30x optical zoom camera, allowing department officials to view objects from a distance, and also contains a FLIR system – Forward Looking Infrared.

Lieutenant Jeff Bauckman is currently overseeing the new drone’s operation and training program and has put the new equipment through extensive testing. He operated the drone in a real world scenario just last week on a house fire call in Granby. The Matrice’s FLIR system allowed Bauckman to fly high above structure and pinpoint hotspots on the building, which aided firefighters in their suppression efforts.

According to Bauckman the Matrice has a range of roughly four miles so long as it stays within line of sight of the operator; though that distance could be greatly reduced due to the unique topography of Grand County. Neither Bauckman nor the Matrice website for the drone were able to provide a maximum height capability for the equipment but under FAA regulations it can only be flown to a height of 400 feet.

The Matrice is water resistant and can be flown snowfall and in winds up to 25 miles per hour. Its ability to fly in adverse weather conditions will make it a viable resource in search and rescue operations. According to the manufacturer it can fly for approximately 38 minutes straight.

“The biggest factor for us was its ability to carry two cameras at once, or two different payloads,” Bauckman said. “The FLIR was huge for us, to have some kind of thermal camera.”

The drone’s ability to carry a payload of up to five pounds could also come in handy in future situations. Bauckman noted that the drone could potentially fly to stranded hikers, snowmobilers or others stuck deep in Middle Park’s mountain forests to drop things like flashlights, radios or even first aid kits well before rescuers on the ground are able to reach lost citizens.

The total cost for the drone was $39,000. Of that the drone itself came in at roughly $10,000, with both the 30x zoom camera and FLIR system each costing an additional $10,000. So far it has been used on last week’s house fire in Granby and to provide aerial reconnaissance for the recent black market marijuana busts in the Granby area. Bauckman noted that the department’s video policy for drone footage will be similar to the policy utilized for deputy body cameras.

The department has already purchased two other DJI drones. The first one, a Phantom 3, has previously been utilized on search and rescue operations. It functions using a similar quad-copter design and is somewhat smaller than the Matrice albeit smaller and with a lower quality camera.

The second drone purchased by the department was a Maverick 3. The Maverick is significantly smaller than the other two drones and can be stashed inside a small backpack. Bauckman said the department expects to use the Maverick on search and rescue operations.

“It is the size of your palm when it folds up,” he said. “If we go on a snowmobile rescue we can put it in a pack and haul it with us then get it up in the air to help out. It is more for missing people.”

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