LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

Ocean County Sheriff’s Office uses drones for search and rescue

BY Lauren Wanko, Correspondent |

It flies over a field in Toms River for our cameras. Typically though, this drone is searching for a missing person or assisting law enforcement with a crime investigation. It’s one of five drones that belongs to the Ocean County Sheriff’s Office.

“Technology is changing and we feel that it’s important as the Sheriff’s Office to bring the upmost technology to assist our local agencies and assist the police chiefs in the county,” said Ocean County Sheriff Michael Mastronardy.

The drone program was launched a couple years ago.

Why are drones so important to his team? “It’s expensive to get a helicopter to get it up there, and it’s more practical and reasonable. As well as there’s specific duties that they can do and respond to in a timely fashion,” said Mastronardy.

Like potentially find a missing person. Lt. Joseph Greene is one of the licensed drone pilots who uses this drone for Project Lifesaver.

“Project Lifesaver is a program that we do for autistic children or people with Alzheimer’s, anyone who has a tendency to wander. We put a bracelet on them that transmits a certain frequency. Historically we would use a handheld receiver to try to find that frequency if they went missing, you get about a quarter mile or half mile range on the handheld receiver,” said Greene.

The drone extended that range to three miles.

“We go out every month and change the batteries in their bracelet and each client gets a certain frequency, so God forbid that particular client goes missing we know what frequency they’re on, we enter that frequency into the drone so it knows what to look for,” said Greene.

Some of the drones are weatherproof and equipped with thermal imaging and HD cameras. The devices can all record video and take still pictures. The drones operate on rechargeable batteries.

The Ocean County Sheriff’s Office also has a waterproof drone which can be used for search and rescue over waterways. A pilot can land the drone on the water, and there’s also a claw that can be added that can hold a life preserver and drop it over the water, potentially saving someone’s life.

The sheriff wants to expand the program. He’s hoping to add an underwater drone to the collection sometime this summer.