Police use unmanned aerial vehicle to nab suspected bicycle thief
By LARRY GIERER
An unmanned aerial vehicle providing surveillance from high in the sky helped Columbus State University police make an arrest in a bicycle theft case last week.
Chief Rus Drew thinks the device will be helpful in crime prevention in the future.
"It can be a very valuable tool for us," Drew said.
The arrest came as the result of a sting operation.
"We've had 12 reported bike thefts since May," Drew said, explaining the need for the setup.
He said the recently acquired surveillance equipment allows officers to view the action from a further distance where they will not be noticed.
Lt. Jeremy Reddish said the eye in the sky has a height ceiling of 100 meters.
It is about a foot long and is made of light plastic. It has four small propellers. Reddish said that at this time it does not have infrared capabilities.
Drew added that there are stationary surveillance cameras around campus.
The device had a joy stick but Drew said Auburn University engineers did some modifications so it is controlled on an iPad.
Asked if people notice the device hovering above, Drew replied no.
"It is quiet and people walking usually are not looking up," he said.
Its battery lets it hover for 30 minutes at a time. Drew said it has been used to monitor traffic patterns at graduations and sporting events.
This was the first time it had been used to make an arrest. "The live video allows us to check out possible escape routes," Drew said.
Reddish said he would like to set up regular patrol paths for the device.
CSU police chose an area near
the Dillingham Bridge downtown, Drew said, because it has a lot of foot traffic. There have been reports of bike thefts in the Historic District.
The arrest was made the evening of July 29.
Sgt. Benjamin Scott, Sgt. Jeremy Stanelle, Officer James Morrow, Officer Christina Hester and Cpl. Roland Splawn conducted the special detail at CSU's RiverPark campus.
A red and silver ZED 1.0 bicycle, which has a value of $200 and belongs to the school, was placed at the south end of the Corn Center at 6 West 10th Street, near the intersection of Dillingham Street and Bay Avenue. Stanelle was piloting the device.
According to the official report, during the detail Splawn was positioned out of sight behind the W.C. Bradley building. At 8:15 p.m. Stanelle advised the team by radio that men had just walked past the bicycle and one, wearing a tan hat, a maroon shirt and jeans, stopped to check the air pressure in the bicycle's tires.
A few moments later, Stanelle reported the man had taken the bicycle and was traveling east on Dillingham Street.
The report said all detail units reported to the scene and Morrow placed the man, David Lucier, under arrest.
Scott put the other man, Samuel Gibson, in handcuffs.
Scott asked Lucier about the bicycle, Lucier responded that the bicycle was "unhitched." Scott asked Lucier why he had taken the bicycle. He replied he thought the bicycle belonged to a friend.
Hester released Gibson and asked him to write a statement about what happened.
Police say that Gibson told officers the men were on their way to get ice water when Lucier saw the bike and "picked it up."
Morrow issued Gibson a criminal trespass warning.
Lucier was taken by Splawn to the Muscogee County Jail where he was charged with theft by taking.
Stanelle likes the device.
"It is a great tool we can utilize and it is easy to use," Stanelle said.