<em>Sergeant Howard Leeming will be heading up the Poulsbo Police Department’s new drone program.</em>
                                Nick Twietmeyer/Kitsap News Group

Sergeant Howard Leeming will be heading up the Poulsbo Police Department’s new drone program. Nick Twietmeyer/Kitsap News Group

Poulsbo police drone program takes flight

The Poulsbo Police Department has become the second agency in Kitsap County to begin employing the use of unmanned aerial systems for law enforcement operations.

“Over the last year, the Poulsbo Police Department has been researching, developing and now implementing a Police Drone Program,” read a February message from the department. “We selected the DJI Mavic system, which cost roughly $3,500 for the drone and all necessary accessories.”

The newsletter also identified a few policy items that will be required for all drone operations by the department:

  • Every flight will have a pre-flight and post-flight check to ensure policy compliance
  • All flights will be recorded, retained and subject to Public Records Requests
  • The drone will only be deployed to investigate known criminal activity or to address public safety concerns

Sergeant Howard Leeming, a 27-year-veteran of the department, is heading up the program. Leeming said as part of the deal, he was required to pass the Federal Aviation Administration’s Part 107 certification for drone pilots.

“It’s a lot of material, it took months. It was a lot of time, a lot of effort,” Leeming said. “Basically think of it as a private pilot’s ground school, minus the part about the aerodynamics of small aircraft and runways. Other than that, it’s the whole thing.”

In talking with Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office officials, Leeming said he discovered that Poulsbo’s drone program would likely experience significantly fewer difficulties related to drone operations in certain airspace.

“It’s a much more complicated system they have because they have to deal with the Bremerton airport and Apex and the airspace requirements that we in Poulsbo just don’t. We have the one airport, the Port of Poulsbo.”

In an August interview, Port of Poulsbo Commissioner Mark DeSalvo — who is also a commercial pilot — expressed his concern for drone operations near the port’s seaplane runway on Liberty Bay. According to Leeming though, the Part 107 FAA certification permits him to conduct drone operations closer to airports than recreational drone operators.

“As a Part 107 operator, we can fly within five miles of an airport without notifying the airport itself,” Leeming said. “That’s our only airspace issue in Poulsbo.”

The drone system used by the Poulsbo Police Department will have the ability to equip the drone with a loudspeaker and spotlights for search and rescue operations. Currently the drone is incapable of being operated in the dark, but Leeming explained that the department is currently working to apply for a waiver allowing for nighttime operations. While Leeming admitted that the drone did offer some tactical advantages to police operations, it will likely see more use in search and rescue applications and investigating collisions.

“I’ve been here a long time and there’s been plenty of times when we’ve had to go find someone who’s lost — whether it’s a child or an elderly person — and as you can imagine, you can cover massive amounts of ground in a very short amount of time.”

“We’re going to be taking photographs of collisions, we can get a great view of skid marks on the roadway, debris fields and a much better perspective of where the event occurred on the road as opposed to pictures from the side,” Leeming said.

“We’ve worked really, really hard as a group, as an agency,” Leeming said of the effort to get the program into service. “The chief and deputy chief have been very supportive, giving me the opportunity to spend the time that I’ve needed to put together quite a lot of planning.”

“As a department, we think that we’ve got a program that is ready to go because of all the effort and time we’ve put into getting it ready.”

—Nick Twietmeyer is a reporter with Kitsap News Group. Nick can be reached at ntwietmeyer@soundpublishing.com

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