Robotic aerial drones have become a familiar sight wherever American soldiers wage war. Now, drones could become part of the Cook County Sheriff's arsenal. Officials say they're far less expensive and more effective than the helicopters that have been the county's eyes-in-the-sky.
It's a case of local government's budget crisis converging with new technology. We've learned that Sheriff Tom Dart's been negotiating for more than four months now with the Department of Homeland Security, and hopes a federal grant will pay for a drone or two that will be far simpler to operate than the expensive helicopters he now shares with Chicago Police. The county's share of that tab is more than $400,000 a year.
Dart said that after talking to several of his young officers -- veteran helicopter pilots who flew in Iraq and Afghanistan -- he'd like to put small computerized drones in the back of their police SUVs.
"It's the quickest and best way to get more efficient. When you have people who are otherwise going about their daily patrol, their daily job, but yet when we need a drone, when we need to utilize it, they'll just peel off from their job for that period of time. We'll utilize it. As opposed to having dedicated people waiting for the weather to break for a helicopter to go up.
Last Friday, a sheriff in suburban Houston took delivery of a 50-pound ShadowHawk drone. Police in Arlington, Texas, have been training for a year on how to operate a smaller 11-pound drone. Both were purchased with federal funding from Homeland Security.
Dart said that, after months of study, he hasn't yet found a downside to drones.
"My God, it would be so easy and cost-effective to utilize that over and over again," he said. He said that his deputies could use the drones to search for missing children. "We can use it during search warrants and the like, where we'd have the ability to scan the building ahead of time. Frankly, in a much quieter fashion than having a helicopter above it."
A spokesperson fro Chicago Police Department Superintendent Garry McCarthy said that the CPD is not currently considering the use of drones.