City of Yuma moves into the drone era

Drones have become a tool for the City of Yuma.

The Yuma Police Department, Electric Department and Water Department all have gone in on the purchase of two drones. The cost of $9,052.51 was split among the three departments, including extra batteries and hard cases.

City Manager Scott Moore said the Electric Department will use the larger drone to visibly inspect the lines, and can use the infrared feature to look for hot spots at the substation and throughout the system. The Water Department can use it to inspect the water towers.

In fact, when the company rep was in town for a short training on the drones, it was discovered that a door was open on the top of the north water tower.

Police Chief Jerry Thompson said his department has a policy in place for the use of the drones.

“I just want to make it clear to everyone that we are not going to fly around looking in people’s backyards,” he said. “It will be just for emergency situations.”

The bigger of the two drones can go for 45 minutes on one battery. The smaller one has 30 minutes per battery. Thompson said the smaller one could be used for interior searches.

“The more you can keep guys from precarious positions, it’s just safer all along,” he said. “It’s better use of everyone’s time. I would rather send a drone it and get it broke than an officer get hurt.”

The larger one, which as the infrared capabilities, would be useful in situations such as when someone wanders off, and there have been times when a person tries to elude law enforcement and tries to hide in the countryside.

The larger one can fly up to 400 feet above the ground. The chief said the “pilot” needs to keep a visual line of site with the drone. The larger drone has a screen on the controller, the smaller one has a set of goggles basically with a screen in them.

The drones have some interesting features, such as a “return home” button on the remote that automatically will bring the drone back to where it started. It also has “obstacle avoidance” where the drone can be stopped or slow down significantly.

The drones are not in use yet as five city employees, representing the three departments, are in the process of getting licensed. Thompson shared that to become a licensed pilot, one just be at least 16 years old, be able to read, speak, write and understand English, be in a physical and mental condition to safely fly a drone, pass the initial aeronautical knowledge exam “Unmanned Aircraft General — Small,” and apply for a FAA license.

“It takes a little getting used to, but it’s not that hard,” Thompson said of flying a drone.