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'It's the future': Cincinnati police use drone to find wanted man on rooftop

WCPO rooftop.png
Posted at 2:53 PM, Sep 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-09 14:53:49-04

Cincinnati police made their first-ever drone-assisted arrest on Sept. 3, using eyes in the sky to locate a suspect who had eluded police on foot.

Officers were looking for a man with multiple felony warrants for his arrest. Police knew he had entered a Peete Street building in the city's Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, but their search had been fruitless — that is, until Sgt. Eric Franz flew a drone six stories into the air.

The suspect was on the roof, lying down to avoid being spotted from the street.

"Someone on the ground was talking to him on the cell phone and said, 'Look behind you,'" Franz said. "He turned around and saw the drone. Got up, lit a cigarette up and gave us the one-second sign."

He was booked into the Hamilton County Justice Center that afternoon.

Franz said drone technology is another tool police use to monitor traffic, get a birds-eye view of SWAT incidents and monitor crowds at large outdoor events. It's a smaller, more maneuverable answer to the traditional police helicopter.

Franz added that he wants the focus to be clear: Police are not using them to violate privacy rights or peek in random windows.

"We're not looking for people jaywalking or running red lights," he said. "We're using this technology to find violent criminals and apprehend them."

Cincinnati-area cybersecurity expert David Hatter said he hopes police departments across the country will be transparent with video collected from drones as the technology becomes increasingly popular.

"I think it's the future," he said. "I think we'll see more of this as the cost goes down and the capabilities go up."

Franz said Cincinnati police would get another few drones in September, opening the box to a new generation of law enforcement.

"In my lifetime, we'll see (gunfire tracking system) Shot Spotter go off, and we'll see a drone fly, leave a little garage, fly to where the shots were fired, start recording everything and anything on the ground," he said.

This story was originally published by Jake Ryle on Scripps station WCPO in Cincinnati.