Beyond the Badge: How drones, robots play a role at LaPorte County Sheriff's Office

Beyond the Badge: How drones, robots play a role at LaPorte County Sheriff’s Office

LAPORTE, Ind. --- This week on Beyond the Badge, we’re heading back to the LaPorte County Sheriff’s Office, taking a look at how technology, such as drones and robots, helps keep officers and the public, safe.

Michiana meets two detectives who spend a lot of time on the ground training, showing the community how the future of tech plays a role in law enforcement.

Jacob Koch has been a detective at the LaPorte County Sheriff’s Office for five years and been with the department for 16 years.

“I've just always wanted to help people, I enjoy helping people,” Koch said.

Helping people is why Detective Koch said using technology in law enforcement is so important.

Austin Howell is also a detective and has been with the Sheriff’s Office for just over two years.

Two years ago, Jacob and Austin started flying drones for the Sheriff’s Office, going through training to get FAA certified.

“Just because you can answer the right questions on a test doesn't mean when you're out there flying in the real world, you're going to know what you're doing,” Howell said.

That's why about once a month, Jacob and Austin go through training, doing mock scenarios of realistic situations they would face. There’s a long list of what the drone can be used for, such as finding a missing person, tracking a suspect in a pursuit and even keeping officers safe.

Drone technology comes with a price tag, but Jacob and Austin said the investment is worth it.

“If we have the ability to send in a drone in, it essentially could save an officer's life,” Howell said. “There's no question about it.”

LaPorte County has major highways and they see a lot of crashes. The drone is also a key tool in crash reconstruction.

“That aerial video and footage and photographs just told the story so much better than just standing there on the ground looking at and trying to dissect how something just happened,” Howell said.

LaPorte added a tactical robot to the team a couple months ago.

“It can open doors, it can climb stairs, it can pick up items, it can carry a cell phone, it can carry a bottle of water and it could deliver that to a subject in need or subject who may not want to speak to the police,” Howell explained.

The tactical robot could be used in situations where someone is barricaded inside of a home, giving officers the ability to send in the robot, rather than taking the risk with an officer.

Jacob and Austin said the drones and tactical robots are only the beginning of the future for tech in law enforcement.

“In the near future, I could see the sending a drone instead of an officer or sending their drone first,” Howell said.

“A lot of the larger technology, it's already out for a lot of larger agencies,” Koch said.

Some drones can fly completely autonomously.

“The dispatch center can just hit a button and send a drone directly out to a scene and get eyes on that scene prior to any first responders getting there,” Koch explained.

Jacob and Austin explained that the drones are a tool, not something to be used for the wrong intentions.

“For us, it's always been to help people if we, if we're looking for someone or if we can use it to document a scene, we're going to use it for that purpose,” Howell said.

“We're not out recording properties,” Koch said. “We're not out spying on anyone or anything else.”

“The drone is such a useful tool for us and being able to use the drone in the community that I grew up in is very rewarding,” Howell said. “And I don't want people to be afraid of the drone and just know that it's here to help.”

“There's a lot more to the job than what everyone in the public sees,” Koch said. "There's a lot that goes into these investigations. There's a lot that goes into training. It's ever evolving. Technology is always evolving. And I think just working together as a team as a community to get this stuff done, it really makes a difference.”

To see how the drones and tactical robot work, see the video above.

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