The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) recently announced the launch of a new public safety effort implementing the use of unmanned aerial systems (commonly known as drones). 

The new program used by the department will serve a variety of uses in public safety across Texas, including flight missions related to officer safety, search and rescue, disaster support, aerial observation support, crash reconstruction, crime scene photography and communication tower inspections.

The drones can deploy rapidly and provide immediate clear images as well as deploy when DPS aircraft are unavailable or too dangerous to be deployed. Drones, in comparison to a manned aircraft, are also more cost efficient for the DPS.

DPS employees operating a UAS must be FAA certified and receive at least 10 hours of practical training. To date, three DPS employees have received the required training and are now authorized to begin using UAS during daylight hours.  The fleet consists of 17 UAS’s, which may increase as public safety needs warrant. The total cost of the fleet was approximately $70,000 and was funded by existing funding, grant funding or seized funds.

The UAS program will provide critical aerial support and will bolster the work of the existing DPS aircraft fleet, which includes fixed-wing airplanes and helicopters. The conventional aircraft fleet regularly conducts numerous and specialized public safety missions and aerial operations throughout the state. With the addition of the UAS program, the DPS aircraft fleet now totals 41 – with nine planes, 15 helicopters and 17 UASs.

As with all of DPS flight missions, the department’s UAS program must comply with department policy, Texas laws, and federal rules and regulations to ensure that the privacy rights of the people in the State of Texas are respected and upheld. The department’s policy (adopted in December 2017) related to the UAS program can be found here: http://www.dps.texas.gov/docs/prCh4Anx11.pdf.

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