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Salisbury Police Department’s strategic goals launch department into future

By Shavonne Walker
shavonne.walker@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — The landscape of the law enforcement profession is changing, the Salisbury Police Department is turning to technology to help face challenges in the way they police.

Since 2016, the Salisbury Police Department has undertaken a number of strategic goals, many of which mean implementing new technology and ways of enforcing the law.

One of the goals is to fund a drone program to aid the department in gathering information and document incidents.

One way a drone program could help is during motor vehicle crash reconstruction, police say, with drone reconstruction saving time.

In 2017, the North Carolina State Highway Patrol and the NCDOT Photogrammetry Unit performed tests with drones to create 3D models of collision scenes. A head-on collision was demonstrated and the flight team conducted mapping using drones and the troopers used traditional scanners to reconstruct the crash. The reconstruction time was reduced from two hours to 30 minutes. 

Deputy Chief Shon Barnes said Police Detective Russell DiSantis has written a detailed policy for drone use within the department, and he’s already been licensed and certified through the Federal Aviation Administration to fly drones. Though, currently, the department doesn’t have a program. If funding becomes available through grants or other means, police say a program could be implemented quickly.

DeSantis completed flight school, passed exams that included learning about how to read aviation maps, learning how to approach a structure and federal restrictions on airspace and determining weather conditions. Every two years, he’ll retake the exam to remain certified as a commercial flyer. NCDOT Unmanned Aircraft Systems also has its own test.

The drones could also be used during active shooter situations where it’s safer to send a drone into part of a building than an officer. If there’s a hazardous chemical spill on the road or railway, then a drone could be used as an alternative to sending a firefighter or officer.

“It’s cheaper than using a helicopter,” DeSantis said in the event there is a land search for a missing person or suspect.

The advantage, DeSantis said, is being able to get a drone up in the air or into a building quickly.

“Time is of the essence when you’re talking about children and people with cognitive impairment,” he said.

If there is a natural disaster, a drone can be deployed to assess the damage with pictures, video and measurements.

A top-of-the-line drone can cost $3,500 with a camera and other accompanying equipment. The goal is to have a drone operator on each patrol and special operations team, as well as traffic officers for wreck reconstruction.

The issue that most people have with a department using drones is whether it will be used to “spy” on people. DeSantis said the department’s policy addresses where drones can be flown, what kind of footage can be captured. The cameras would have similar guidelines as the department’s body cameras.

A ballistic chamber, obtained at no cost to Salisbury taxpayers, has been another recent addition to the Salisbury Police Department. Barnes says it is used to “test-fire seized weapons and determine if that weapon was used in other crimes.”

The officer fires the weapon into the chamber opening, the bullet is deflected into a circular deceleration chamber where it slowly decelerates until stopping and dropping into a collection bin. The shell is expelled from the gun.

The machine was purchased by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives through the Rowan Gun Violence Taskforce and will be able to be used by any Rowan County law enforcement agency.

“Shell casings leave a unique mark on them similar to a fingerprint. And so if a gun is used in a crime in Salisbury and then that same gun is used in California, if the shell casings are placed into evidence by a CSI (Crime Scene Investigator) and placed into NIBN (National Integrated Ballistic Information Network) then we can say to a high degree of certainty that this weapon was used in North Carolina and California. And so can begin to connect the dots,” Barnes said.

There are some cold cases that the department believes it will be able to draw some connections using the ballistic network.

“We’ve had it a few months,” said Detective Jay Basinger, who has trained on using the machine.

Before getting the machine, Basinger said officers had to choose a day, check the guns out of evidence that they were saving to test and test fire the guns at the gun range.

“It’s a quicker turnaround,” he said.

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.

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