MURRIETA, Calif. (KABC) -- The Murrieta Police Department is using technology to help officers fight crime from a better vantage point.
Six months ago, the police department launched its Unmanned Aerial Systems Program, utilizing drones piloted by five sworn officers.
"It is really helpful in giving us better situational awareness of the problems we're dealing with out in the field, having that bird's eye perspective on the problems we are encountering," said Lt. Jeremy Durrant with the Murrieta Police Department.
On Saturday, a drone helped officers on the ground find and arrest three suspects.
An alarm at a construction equipment dealership sounded around 2 a.m. The business checked their own surveillance cameras and reported to police that two men had broken in and were tampering with vehicles.
"Ground officers saw the subjects in the property, attempted to detain them but they took off running," Durrant said.
Rather than blindly pursuing the fleeing suspects, the officers turned to a drone and its thermal imaging capabilities for help.
Cpl. Josh Rodriguez decided to deploy his drone, piloting it above officers on the ground.
"He monitored them as they fled on foot through a greenbelt area over a wall and into their waiting vehicle on a side street that the officers on the ground weren't aware of," Durrant said.
The suspects were unaware that several hundred feet above they were being tailed by Rodriguez's drone.
"It wasn't until they got on to the main street driving away that officers were able to navigate based on the drone operator's instructions of direction of travel, able to get behind the vehicle and conduct the traffic stop," said Durrant.
All three men were taken into custody.
The department is hoping to add additional pilots beyond the current team of five officers.