The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office is upgrading its public-service toolbox.
Jefferson County Council members voted unanimously Nov. 8 to approve a purchase of a drone for the Sheriff’s Office.
The county will buy the drone, a LOKI Mk2, through Aardvark Tactical of La Verne, Calif., for $9,825.
Aardvark is the sole North American vendor for the model, which, according to the company’s website, is designed for “close quarter, indoor and outdoor tactical scouting missions.”
The site said the Mk2 has a highly sensitive night and day infrared sensor camera, allowing it to fly and see in complete darkness.
Lt. Robert Peter, commander of the Sheriff’s Office Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team, said the Mk2 has a lot of positives.
“That model is the one currently used by the FBI. I just retired from the FBI and have extensive personal experience with this particular aerial system,” he said. “It is relatively easy to use, does not require a large suite of accompanying electronics, is cost-effective, and the technology and company are not connected to China, and not many fit into that category.”
Peter said the drone is versatile.
“This model is small enough to use (inside) a structure and is meant to mitigate threats posed to SWAT operators prior to entry. It allows tactical teams to understand the floor plan, identify potential challenges and significantly improve intelligence regarding the posture and location of any individuals inside. This, in turn, informs a team’s ability to adjust its tactics appropriately to meet its objective, which is a resolution using the least amount of force necessary.”
Sheriff Dave Marshak said his office looks for ways to make the job easier for officers out in the field.
“If there is a way to employ technology to reduce the risk of injury or death to an officer, we have a responsibility to do it,” he said.
Marshak said his office had budgeted for the purchase in 2022, but asked the County Council to expedite the order because other technology needs repair.
“All technology, and particularly SWAT equipment, goes down for maintenance or repair,” he said. “We currently have two robots at the manufacturer for repair, which is why we expedited this order.”
Peter said the SWAT team also has a large exterior drone and a large ground-based robot, as well as the two smaller robots that are being repaired.
He said the large robot has several features, but is so bulky and heavy it has some limitations with how and where it can be deployed.
“Ground-based systems are important tools, but aerial systems have some major advantages,” Peter said. “The entire collection will allow us to use tech in just about any situation.”
Marshak said drones and robots are used in specialized situations.
“The Sheriff’s Office employs various pieces of technology during tactical operations, including drones. These drones are used to minimize exposure of SWAT officers during high-risk operations,” he said.
“Specifically, drones are used for interior operations when our robots have difficulty with things on the floor like clothing and trash.”
Marshak said the decision to use a drone or robot is taken seriously.
“Drones are not deployed for routine operations,” he said. “Privacy and constitutional protections against government intrusions are always weighed with how the technology assists us in providing public safety. Nobody in our community wants random drones scanning the skies, and these don’t. They are target-specific tools that help mitigate risk to our officers.”
Marshak said the technology does assist officers in many situations.
“With our current drone, we have documented crash scenes, searched for missing persons and provided overwatch for SWAT operations,” he said. “A few weeks ago, we used a drone for the Apple Butter Festival (in Kimmswick).
“From above, the drone gave our incident commander intelligence to learn of parking availability, traffic flow and maximize effectiveness to reduce wait time and prevent crashes,” he said.