PETERSBURG, VA (WWBT) - In Petersburg, the police department is taking to the sky, hoping drones will help them fight crime.
The department just acquired three new drones that will join the one drone the department already had, but state law restricts how police departments are able to use them.
"As we get technologies, so do the criminals, so we have to be ahead of them in the curve," said Officer Bill Smith.
One tool Petersburg police officers are using is drones. The department now has four - reportedly more than any other city our county law enforcement agency in Central Virginia.
"If we're looking for a missing child or a missing person, this drone can cover a large area very vastly, as opposed to what it would take us to do a search and rescue of that individual," Smith said.
Petersburg used a drone following the devastating fire at the High Street Lofts back in January.
"After it was extinguished by a great job from our fire partners, they had to get into the building to make some assessments. It wasn't safe to do so, so we used the drone from a safe vantage point to go into that structure," said Chief Kenneth Miller.
The ACLU has been vocal about drones, previously pushing an effort that led to a two-year ban on police being able to use drones. That ban was lifted in 2015, when lawmakers decided police can use them - with limitations.
"Drones have many beneficial uses, including in search-and-rescue missions, scientific research, mapping, and more. But deployed without proper regulation, drones equipped with facial recognition software, infrared technology, and speakers capable of monitoring personal conversations would cause unprecedented invasions of our privacy rights…." the ACLU wrote on its website.
"We're the police, and we have to follow the law," Miller said.
He says that's why his department has two licensed pilots with other officers in training.
"We can't just arbitrarily go on someone else's property, as we [would not] in any other case, and just assume something. There has to be probable cause, a warrant will be obtained," Miller said.
When it is, Petersburg could be watching you - from above.
"This is just one element in which we can get ahead of the game in surveillance," Smith added.
The police department obtained the three additional drones by returning old cameras the department wasn't using back to the manufacturer. That means the drones came at no cost to the city.
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