Auburn Police drone-Justin Narwocki

Auburn Police Department Patrolman Justin Narwocki flies the department’s new drone, at upper right.

AUBURN — The Auburn Police Department now has an air force, thanks to its new drone.

“We are going to be using it quite often. It’s such an effective tool that everybody’s excited to have it on board,” said Patrolman Justin Nawrocki, who has completed training to fly the tiny, four-rotor aircraft.

When attached to an iPad screen, the drone can display a standard image or a thermal image that can detect a person through body heat.

“The biggest thing is for lost children. … If we can get this up in the air and find them that much quicker, before they may run to a pond or something,” said Auburn Police Chief Martin D. McCoy.

The drone also can be used at crime scenes or in searching for fugitives. Its first deployment for Auburn supported the department’s Emergency Response Team.

“It’s just a very useful tool for us,” McCoy said.

Nawrocki said he presented the idea of acquiring a drone to McCoy, who encouraged him to pursue it.

“I’ve always been interested in them, and I’ve also seen the capabilities of them,” Nawrocki said. “Seeing the capabilities and seeing how I can help my fellow officers and the public … kind of drove me to do it.”

Lt. Jon Bowers of the Fort Wayne Police Department guided Nawrocki through his training and in selection of an appropriate drone.

“It’s like a PlayStation,” with a game-style controller and an iPad screen, Nawrocki said about flying the drone.

Narwocki’s license allows him to fly the drone up to 400 feet high. It can travel up to 40 mph horizontally, although he does not see a frequent need for so much speed. Most potential uses involve hovering over a location.

With four batteries and a recharging unit, Nawrocki can keep his drone in the air as long as a situation requires.

Patrolman Richard Carper also is training to operate the drone, so Nawrocki will have a backup.

Until now, the Fort Wayne Police Department and Noble County Sheriff’s Department were other local agencies using drones.

“If another agency would call us to assist, we would be willing to help,” Nawrocki said. It also could be useful at fire scenes, he added.

Although more expensive models are available, Auburn is starting with a more basic $6,000 drone unit.

“If I find one kid with this,” Nawrocki said, “it’s worth it.”

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