Wednesday, September 7th, 2016
Sheriff eyeing drone for department
Tool would be used mostly to reconstruct crashes, search for missing people and pot
By William Kincaid
CELINA - The Mercer County Sheriff's Office has been borrowing drones from other counties to assist with investigations since the beginning of the year.
Now, Sheriff Jeff Grey wants to purchase one for his office, primarily to help with traffic crash reconstruction by taking aerial photos and video footage.
Grey met with county commissioners Greg Homan, Jerry Laffin and Rick Muhlenkamp on Tuesday morning to discuss items he is considering purchasing.
Among the items is a 12-inch drone costing $1,581 and affixed with a camera. The drone would be used mostly to help reconstruct traffic accidents as well as to search for missing people and seek out suspected drug cultivation, Grey said.
"I'm not big on a drone for surveillance," Grey said, pointing out he knows drone use is controversial.
Grey said four employees are trained to operate drones.
An infrared camera - allowing for nighttime photos in dark rural areas - would increase the cost of the drone by $10,000, Grey said. He said his office could forgo the infrared camera for now.
"If we have one of those that we absolutely need infrared, I do know a county that has an infrared drone that we could get here to use," Grey said, noting the county could always upgrade, if needed.
Commissioners listened but didn't comment or take any action.
Grey said his office has been using drones from other counties to take aerial photos and camera footage of a crime scene involving human bones found south of Celina. Grey will host a news conference at 10 a.m. Thursday to provide updates on that case.
Investigators also brought in a drone to take aerial photos of an area surrounding a wheat field near state Route 29 where the body of a motorcyclist was found in June and to search for a missing girl in the Montezuma area in July. The body of a 10-year-old girl who reportedly had wandered from a home was later found in a channel of water
The drone could also be deployed to search for suspected drugs.
"Sometimes we get calls that possibly somebody's growing marijuana out in a cornfield. Obviously we have (Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation) come in and fly every year, but we've got one day a year that they come in and fly," Grey said.
Grey also told commissioners that Motorola is offering a 50 percent discount on 1,200 portable radios provided to law enforcement personnel during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July. It would cost $200,000 to replace the sheriff's offices 70 portable radios - used by deputies and corrections officers - through the program, Grey said.
The sheriff's office last purchased radios in 2009. Motorola no longer supports the outdated radios but parts are still available, he said.
"Now our radios still work, so if we don't do anything, we're good for probably another three, four, five years before we're going to do something with the radios," Grey said.
Grey said he was not recommending the Motorola offer but simply wanted to let commissioners know about the huge discount.
Furthermore, Grey told commissioners he wants to buy a $22,000 steel insert or cage for a recently purchased inmate transportation van. The steel cage is more costly but would hold up better than the plexiglass cages in some cruisers that arrestees have broken, he said.
The van transports inmates to and from court and to prison, Grey said. Male and female inmates must be separated.
"We'll be able to haul more prisoners," Grey said.
He would also like to equip the van with three cameras to record the inmates being transported. The cameras are priced at $1,778.
"If, heaven forbid, we'd have a prisoner like in Baltimore where all of a sudden somebody's hurt, we'd at least be able to see what happened - or if anything happened," Grey said.
Also on Grey's wish list are two needle shredders costing a total of $4,500. Needles are currently placed in disposal containers, he said.
"We're getting an awful lot of needles that are brought in through drug drop box, and people bringing us needles that they find and we'd like to have a needle shredder in the jail and a needle shredder in the evidence room," Grey said. "With our drug problem we obviously don't want needles out there."
Grey then requested and entered into an executive session with commissioners to talk about personnel issues. He had also wanted to talk about ongoing criminal investigations - not related to sheriff's office personnel - of which he said commissioners should be aware. However, he said he wanted to confer with county assistant prosecutor Amy Ikerd to make sure an executive session could be called to discuss the topic.