The Frankfort Police Department (FPD) recently conducted a joint training exercise with the Clinton County Sheriff’s Office to better utilize drones received from the city government to map crime scenes and crashes as well as track suspects in the city.

According to the Sheriff’s Office, the joint exercise involved newer technology meant to incorporate a drone’s ability to map an area utilizing aerial photogrammetry. A portion of the training involved classroom work at the Sheriff’s Office to familiarize the officers with the crash and crime scene mapping before the officers embarked on further training at the Clinton County fairgrounds for more hands-on training.

The Sheriff’s Office reported that local law enforcement agencies will be equipped with drones and software that allow for officers to fly the drones over a crash site or crime scene to capture the incident on a map to better assess the cause and effect of the incident. According to authorities, the teams will combine the drone photographs with ground photographs taken by officers to clear the scene and reopen the area as quickly as possible due to the efficient gathering of evidence. The Sheriff’s Office stated that local agencies intend to work closely together to ensure that the implementation of the technology progresses smoothly.

“We will work closely with the newly formed program at the Frankfort Police Department to provide a highly specialized service to each agency in Frankfort (and) all of Clinton County as well as surrounding agencies,” posted the Sheriff’s Office.

The Sheriff’s Office further explained the process of utilizing the drones, stating that the coordination of the drone mapping and the ground photos will allow for the investigation team to create an accurate scale diagram of the scene with distance and angle measurements that remain accurate. The Sheriff’s Office stated that the information is intended to help the crash reconstructionist team and forensic specialists in the county.

Additionally, the Sheriff’s Office possesses a software that renders scaled reports that include detailed photos and three dimensional imagery as a result of the combined sets of photos taken by the drones and the officers. The models created by the software may reportedly aid crash reconstructionists in determining the cause of crashes and develop a case that may be presented in court proceedings.

FPD Chief Scott Shoemaker commented on Monday that the agency has investigated two fatal crashes in the last few months that warranted deployment of the crash reconstructionist team, and the help of the drones will allow for the processes conducted by the team to operate more smoothly. Shoemaker said that FPD looks forward to working with the Sheriff’s Office in the future with the drones.

“Some of those things are easy to say ‘hey, this is what really happened,’ but everybody wants that other layer of investigation, so now we’re looking at getting our drones and getting mapping,” said Shoemaker. “So, we’re going to work with (the Sheriff’s Office). We have two drone operators now that are working with them.”

Shoemaker continued to stress that due to the limited number of fatal crashes requiring reconstruction in the city that requires the response of FPD, the drones will likely be tasked with different roles throughout the year. The drones were originally requested by FPD after test runs with a drone shared between FPD and the Frankfort Fire Department proved beneficial for the agency. The new drones resemble smaller versions of the original drone and are intended to be utilized for suspect location identification and information gathering rather than crash reconstruction.

However, Shoemaker commented that FPD continues to look toward purchasing another larger drone to ensure that each of the two drone operators at FPD possess a smaller drone for immediate investigation and a larger drone utilized for mapping and long-term investigation. Shoemaker continued to comment that the first drone callout for the agency occurred recently when a suspect attempted to evade law enforcement toward the outskirts of downtown Frankfort earlier this year.

“Our first drone call out was a week or so ago when somebody ran from one of our officers. We brought the thermal drone up to run along the creek back there,” said Shoemaker. “They can just fly through the treeline and look for heat, and we don’t have to trek through it. Drones are the future.”

The Sheriff’s Office stated that its drone program began in Novemeber 2016 with five Deputies completing the required training to become pilots. The Sheriff’s Office reported that the pilots have been flying the drones to gather information about crash and crime scenes since 2018 while also providing aerial support to surrounding agencies in regard to cases involving missing persons and fleeing suspects. The Sheriff’s Office aspires to incorporate the knowledge of their certified members to help improve the response from the FPD officers seeking their certifications.

According to Shoemaker, one officer at FPD has received a Federal Aviation Association license and the second officer is expected to receive his license in the near future to better utilize the drones for various needs in the city with the aid of the Sheriff’s Office software and experience.