BY DARREN CAMPBELL

Law Enforcement is a profession that requires you to adapt and evolve or you will be quickly left behind. Long gone are the days when all you needed to be effective in solving crimes was a pencil and paper. In the real world game of cops and robbers, we must use every advantage we can garner to keep a leading position and continue to make Iredell County the safest place possible.

One of the most exciting aspects of modern-day policing is the advancement in tools and technology we employ. In 2018, with the use of seized drug dealer money, better known as Federal Equity Sharing money, our office purchased a piece of specialized equipment known to many as a drone. Our dedicated drone pilots are certified by the Federal Aviation Administration to operate drones. These pilots are required to follow established federal guidelines and North Carolina General Statutes during operation.

The Federal Equity Sharing program is funded by money seized from a variety of sources, most notably from drug dealers and drug mules. Where our involvement in a case triggers the Federal Equity Sharing program, our share of the seized money is returned through a series of legal processes with a system of checks and balances. This money has very specific restrictions controlling how and where it can be used. For example, it cannot be used to fund personnel, but can be used to enhance the capabilities of an agency, such as through the purchase of equipment. By utilizing this federal program, we are afforded the opportunity to remain on the cutting edge of combating crime without an added expense to taxpayers.

We often focus on the criminal aspect of our jobs. However, in our multi-faceted profession we are often called upon to provide services to our community during a time of need. Drones have many applications in the world of law enforcement, such as in a search-and-rescue scenario to locate a missing child or adult. The drone is an extremely valuable tool in a search because of the sheer amount of area it can survey.

In addition to the purchase of our drone through the Federal Equity Share program, we have used this program to purchase ballistic shields for our elementary schools, a Bearcat armored personnel vehicle, a mobile classroom, and just this week a lake patrol boat that will expand our lake operations to include Lake Lookout in addition to Lake Norman.

The safety of our deputies will always be a priority within our office. The technology provided by drones allows us to keep officer safety at the forefront of every operation. Having the ability to survey a situation before placing deputies in harm’s way is advantageous to all parties involved. Recently, we were able to observe a drug operation where, in addition to the sale of narcotics, the suspect was observed to be heavily armed. Based on the safely gathered intelligence, we were able to devise an arrest plan taking into account the threats posed by the large amounts of firearms, and were able to take the suspect into custody without incident.

There are rules all drone operators must abide by, including law enforcement. There are permissible law enforcement uses of a drone for the health and safety of the general public, but to conduct an operation as mentioned above, we must apply for a search warrant and present our facts of the case to a magistrate or judge. After all facts of the case are weighed, our application for a search warrant will be granted or denied. If the search warrant is granted, only then can we use this technology to conduct surveillance. Failure to adhere to the laws of search and seizure would not only result in a loss of a criminal case, but also diminish the role of law enforcement and our desire to be dutiful to the community we serve.

We will continue to utilize any and all technologies and equipment available to us to ensure the safety of our fellow citizens. Whether it be the utilization of our drone to locate a missing loved one or to dismantle a neighborhood drug operation, our desire to keep our county and its citizens safe will always remain our top priority.

As always, if you have any additional questions, please call me at 704-878-3180 or email me at decampbell@co.iredell.nc.us.

Darren Campbell is the Iredell County sheriff.

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