Drone Lookout Helps Capture Murder Suspect

Daytona Beach police officers recently put their Embry-Riddle UAS training to the test by using a drone to apprehend a burglary suspect who jumped on a roof in an attempt to escape.

When the Daytona Beach Police Department (DBPD) got the call that a man suspected of having killed one person and injured two others was holed up in an Ormond Beach motel, they assembled a six-person team trained to apprehend him.

The usual procedure was for three officers to approach from the front, while three would cover the back of the building.  

This time, though, the police department had a “force multiplier,” according to DBPD Officer and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Professor Anthony Galante — an unmanned aircraft system, or drone, that could easily provide a lookout for out back. 

“Six officers were able to go in the front and confront the suspect,” Galante said. “He was really outnumbered, and he surrendered.” 

DBPD launched a program incorporating unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in 2017 with the assistance of Embry-Riddle. In addition to helping arrest dangerous suspects, the department’s five drones have assisted in search and rescue operations and provided sophisticated damage assessments of a hurricane. They have also delivered a bird’s-eye view and infrared heat mapping of a burning building for firefighters trying to train their hoses effectively and avoid walking near hot spots on the building’s roof. 

“Having a UAS program can absolutely make a community safer,” said DBPD Sgt. Tim Ehrenkaufer. “Catching criminals, removing the threat of them re-vicitimizing. Watching over crowds during large events, like the Daytona 500 or Daytona Bike Week.” 

“Using UAS,” said Galante, “we can save people’s lives and make the job safer.” 

Galante is an assistant professor of aeronautical science, specializing in UAS, at Embry-Riddle. He is also the police department’s aviation safety officer, after having retired from full-time work with the force in 2015.  

He points out that the department’s trained aviation officers conduct a risk assessment before every flight. The assessment yields a score, and that score indicates a course of action, including not taking off at all. 

“When shots are fired, we’re running toward the gunfire, so we’re used to risk” said Galante, who has participated in many operations as a leading member of the department’s SWAT team. “But we don’t take unnecessary risks. Ever.” 

DBPD and Embry-Riddle, which launched one of the first and largest Unmanned and Autonomous Systems Operations degree program in the nation in 2011, have worked hard to create a program that follows all U.S. Department of Justice regulations regarding civil liberties and all Federal Aviation Administration safety rules.  

Helping to make communities safer and more secure — through collaboration with law enforcement and first responders to accidents, crime scenes and natural disasters — is an Embry-Riddle priority, according to John Robbins, associate professor of aeronautical science and undergraduate program coordinator for Unmanned Aircraft Systems. 

Robbins said Embry-Riddle trains professional UAS pilots to safely integrate UAS into the National Airspace, with more than 1,500 students enrolled university-wide in its undergraduate and graduate UAS degree programs. 

“Embry-Riddle is highly invested in making communities safer by helping law enforcement agencies incorporate UAS into their operations,” said Robbins. 

Read more about Galante’s career path here. 

— By Michaela Jarvis

Posted In: Applied Science | Aviation | Unmanned Systems