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Sheriff’s Office unveiled newest tool

By Tim Croft
The Star

The Gulf County Sheriff’s Office has a new tool. 

And in the event of a natural disaster (hint, hint, Hurricane Michael) this tool will prove quite handy indeed. 

The GCSO has established a small unmanned aviation unit

Sheriff Mike Harrison unveiled the newest asset to the department last week, showcasing a drone with the latest technology and which has already been deployed to Franklin County for a search-and-rescue effort. 

“That is what I like about this, it is sheriffs helping sheriffs,” Harrison said. 

“This” is a program from the Florida Sheriff’s Association that provided the $34,000 in funding for Harrison’s department to establish a small unmanned aircraft systems unit within the department. 

“We’ve been needing to get a drone for some time,” Harrison said. “We’ve got it, (the Florida Sheriff’s Association) paid for it and our guys are trained.” 

In a Cliff Note’s version, the Florida Sheriff’s Association has over 70,000 members primarily comprised of business leaders, citizens and law enforcement officers. 

County Commissioner Ward McDaniel recently celebrated 45 years as a dues-paying member of the organization. 

Law enforcement agencies also pay dues. 

“(The Sheriff’s Association) provides a lot of things for us as far as training, commander training, crisis-intervention training,” Harrison said. “They do so much for us.” 

At the end of the last year, the association ended up with some unused, or surplus, funds. 

“The president, Sheriff Bob Gaultier of Pinellas County, said to the sheriffs of larger counties that ‘We have a lot of things we take for granted’” Harrison said. 

Therefore, the decision was made to offer the funds to fiscally-constrained counties, such as Gulf, through the association’s Shared Asset Program. 

According to the association, “The ultimate objective of the FSA Shared Asset Program is to assist recipient sheriffs in financial need with capital outlay funds which will enhance their response, and the response of other sheriffs, to the communities they serve. 

For example, Harrison has already sent his drone team to assist Franklin County and if another sheriff in the region calls the department will respond, he added. 

And another Panhandle county received funding to establish a dive team; if Harrison is in need of a dive team one call will suffice, he said. 

Harrison also emphasized that the new drone unit would not be focused on gathering data or surveillance or other nefarious purposes some have assigned to drones. 

“This equipment will help us in search and rescue efforts, searching for missing/endangered children and adults, incidents of fleeing suspects and so much more,” Harrison said.  “This drone has a thermal imaging camera that people see used on law enforcement helicopters.”  

As part of the program, four deputies received training and became certified by the Federal Aviation Administration as Remote Pilots.