Irvine police using drones to send out alerts, including missing person announcements

Jessica De Nova Image
Tuesday, September 6, 2022
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Irvine police are using drones to make missing person announcements in communities and have partnered with the Orange County Fire Authority for creative uses of the technology.

IRVINE, Calif. (KABC) -- Irvine police are using drones to make missing person announcements in communities and have partnered with the Orange County Fire Authority for creative uses of the technology.

An announcement caught my attention in my own neighborhood last week. It was Irvine police searching for a missing man, thankfully found safe, but I was surprised to find out the message was coming from a drone.

It turned out, the department has been doing this for about three years.

Sgt. Christopher Bees said their Unmanned Aircraft Systems, or UAS, are faster to deploy, less costly and easier to hear than a helicopter.

"The patrol officers that are on the drone team are driving around with it so they are quicker to deploy a drone," Sgt. Bees said.

Street closures after accidents, locating a bobcat in someone's yard or a suspect on the run -- UASs can do all this and more.

The department has also partnered up with the Orange County Fire Authority in the use of this technology.

Thanks to the infrared capabilities of this UAS, while firefighters focused on putting out the flames on an incident in 2021 on the 261 Toll Road, officers located the arson suspect hiding in the bushes.

OCFA's Drone Program Manager, Frank Granados, said drones give fire crews an extra set of eyes in real time.

"That provides safety for our personnel. It gives us a broad spectrum of what we're doing and it gives the incident commander an overall image or idea of what's going on in the incident and that way, they're better able to manage the resources that are coming in, coming out," Granados said.

As for who they're watching with these drones, officers said they wrote their UAS policy with privacy in mind.

"With the exception of training and demonstration purposes, if we do record something, at the end of the operation we review it for evidentiary value. If there's nothing of evidence, we delete any video that we retain," Sgt. Bees said.

According to IPD, officers use drone technology to search for missing people about twice a month.