Portland Police releases swarm of ‘eyes-in-the-sky’

INCLUDES CONFERENCE AND FLIGHT VIDEO | Finally, our officers are allowed to use drones to help end standoffs, spot fleeing suspects, and investigate car crashes. See their program revealed at their outer East Portland training facility …

The new Police Bureau Unmanned Aerial Systems drone program is presented here, at the Bureau’s Training Division .

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

Years after the Gresham Police Department (GPD) started their Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) division, the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) revealed the start of their own new UAS program on Thursday, June 8, at the PPB Training Division campus in the Wilkes neighborhood.

To see GPD drones in use, as officers provided “mutual assistance” to the PPB during a manhunt in the Powellhurst-Gilbert on June 29, 2022, CLICK HERE for our article that included a video of their drones taking off, being operated, and landing.

Briefly defining what UAS are – “commonly referred to as drones; these are aircraft without a human pilot on board” – was PPB Metropolitan Explosive Disposal Unit Sergeant Jim DeFrain, the, Operational Supervisor of the Portland Police UAS program.

PPB Metropolitan Explosive Disposal Unit Sergeant Jim DeFrain, Operational Supervisor of the Portland Police Bureau UAS program.

“The Portland Police Bureau didn’t build their program from scratch,” DeFrain said. “Gresham Police has been doing ‘best practice’ in this type of arena for a very long time.”

It’s taken the PPB about five years, DeFrain acknowledged, to start their program, but “the ‘winds have not been favorable’ to us during that time.

“I don’t get jazzed about much, but I’m pretty jazzed about this program,” says Sergeant Jim DeFrain, looking over their new “fleet” of aircraft.

“One benefit for being so far behind [other police agencies] on this, is we got to see what others were doing wrong – and what they were doing correctly. And we’ve tailored our program to do all meet privacy concerns,” DeFrain said.

On April 5, 2023, the Portland City Council voted unanimously in favor of a one-year pilot project.

To view the entire presentation, and the City Council’s deliberation, CLICK HERE.

This project is limited to the tightly-defined activities of traffic accident and crime-scene reconstruction. Search and rescue operations will now allow the Metro Explosive Unit to observe suspicious items from a distance; and they can also be used for managing critical incidents – specifically for the apprehension of armed suspects – upon the approval of the Critical Incident Commander.

View highlights of this press conference, then see a drone take off – and see video made by the device from the air:

When asked about the value use of drones in investigating traffic accidents, DeFrain deferred to Gresham Police Department Sergeant Mike Amend.

“[Drones] provide aerial photo documentation, and along with the GPS system, can document the scene quickly and more accurately than on the ground – which can dramatically shorten the time a thoroughfare is shut down for a traffic accident investigation,” explained Sergeant Amend.

Some of the PPB officers who will operate the Bureau’s new UAS drones listen to the briefing in a Training Facility classroom.

“I get to see a lot of technology and I’m generally not enthusiastic about it,” commented DeFrain. “We vetted this a lot, and deploying UAS has proven to de-escalate situations, and has proven to get streets open faster after auto accidents.”

The project will be run by the PPB’s Specialized Resources Division, under Assistant Chief Art Nakamura. Seven Traffic Division pilots, and ten pilots who have other duties – such as being on the Focused Intervention Team — are, or will soon, become FAA-certified to pilot the craft.

Aware of China connection
East Portland News asked of there are any concerns about the connection with their DJI drones being made in China, and using an app that supplies information to the Kuo-min Tang (Chinese National People’s Party).

“We’re always concerned about that; but, 80% of the market is DJI,” responded DeFrain. “We’re keeping an eye on this,” DeFrain acknowledged. “We looked at a many other platforms that do not have the technology that DJI has right now, at the price that they have right now,” he said.

The team prepares to demonstrate flying a drone in the parking lot.

At the end of the year, the PPB Specialized Resources Division will prepare and present a report on the program to the Portland City Council with hopes to continue the UAS program, DeFrain told those assembled. Then he added, “No other questions? Let’s go flying!”

Making its unmistakable high-pitched whine, one of the PPB’s smaller new drones takes to the air.

© 2023 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News™


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