SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Drones were introduced to the Springfield Police Department years ago, but mainly for homicide investigations.  

However, as time progressed, the drones have increased and their roles, expanded.  

“We deploy them as needed on calls for overwatch of scenes, locating missing juveniles, searching large areas of like this business area we cover quickly. That’s where we’re at [with the drones] right now,” Captain Eric Reece with SPD says.  

Reece says the program will expand even more.

“We have the goal to down the road, to make this more of a first responder kind of deal where the drone actually beats officers,” Reece said.  

OzarksFirst got a close look at the drones Tuesday afternoon, more specifically the Matrice 30T.  

“It has a wide-angle lens, and it has a zoom lens, a digital zoom lens and an infrared camera,” Reece said. “There are four cameras built into it, and compared to the Maverick, it’ll go 54 miles an hour. It operates in higher winds. You know, it’s weatherproofed and can operate in the rain depending on how bad it’s raining.” 

SPD says the drones are used nearly once a day for all different types of investigations.

“We are using it proactively in some areas. For example, our traffic unit has been putting the drone down where they can see traffic signals and they’re able to watch red light violations that are high impact, high crash areas. The drone is able to see what color the light is at when it changes which car goes through it and there’s officers that are down the road, they can then pull the person over and issue a citation or warning as sort of we’re using that to lower try to lower traffic fatalities,” Reece said. “We used it about a month ago to locate a missing juvenile in an area that we’re also searching on the ground. We could put the drone up to 400 feet. It’s got a great infrared system. That’s how we were able to locate juvenile, by their heat signature. The drone operators were able to direct the patrol officers where that juvenile was at, and they were able to come in and locate them.” 

Reece says years from now, the drones could transition to fill the role of the first responder.

“Someone will set in, dispatch, listen to [calls come] in. They’ll have complete control of all the drones from a desktop application. They’ll launch a drone, fly it to a scene, provide an overwatch or whatever is needed, and then when that’s over, they’ll bring the drone back to wherever its station is,” Reece said. “It’ll land and go into a dome and start charging itself. So that will be that’s where we’re trying to get to.”