UTA police begin drone program to combat crime and provide first aid

Jul 11, 2023, 6:48 PM | Updated: 7:25 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — While drones and the views they provide aren’t necessarily new technology, Utah Transit Authority police officers using them is something that is.

“It is pretty amazing stuff,” said Officer Alex Blauer. “We can actually get places that are very difficult to get to in a vehicle or on foot.”

Officer Blauer is one of thirteen UTA officers trained to fly them in the department’s new drone program. The idea is to get to areas faster to either help track and find a criminal running from police, or easier tasks like checking to see if there’s something on a track.

“With the amount of rails we have, thousands of miles of rails and roadways that our buses travel on, the drones allow us to get to places that are remote and a lot more difficult for our officers to deploy to,” said UTA police Lt. Todd Hewitt.

Utah Transit Authority police Officer Alex Blauer piloting one of the new drones. (Mark Wetzel/KSL TV)

For example, while gathering footage for this story, KSL TV’s news crews witnessed a man having a medical emergency on the FrontRunner platform next to UTA police headquarters, where help was fast.

If he were in a more remote area, though, it would have taken more time for a human officer to see what was happening. In those cases, a drone is faster to get that initial information.

“For getting to those remote areas, it is great for letting our officers know what to expect when they get there,” Hewitt said.

There are also cases where someone might be thinking of suicide by train. These drones can be flown to them with a recorded message letting the person know the trains have been stopped and help is coming.

“Hopefully, that will convince them to leave the railway, allow us to make contact with them, and get them the help they need,” Hewitt expressed.

The Utah Transit Authority drone in its case. (Mark Wetzel/KSL TV)

Some people may be concerned this drone program is just another way of government watching us or that it’s part of a new surveillance program. Hewitt said that is not the case.

“We deploy these as needed, so if we get a call. The only time they go up without us having calls is if there’s a request for us to check the alignment for maybe an area where people have cut a fence to trespass off for people who are camping in our area,” he explained.

UTA has three drones right now. The department is hoping to add more in the future.

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UTA police begin drone program to combat crime and provide first aid