by Rob Malcolm

LODI (CBS13) — Lodi Police are making good use of a drone purchase by the department over a year ago. They say more departments around the country are turning to the technology and adding it the toolbox to fight crime.

Officers have to be licensed by the FAA to become drone pilots and they say the training is worth it to keep communities safe.

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Detective Michael Hitchcock with the Lodi Police Department said his drone has played a critical role in capturing a suspect.

“As of right now we’ve got five and were trying to get more people trained up,” said Hitchcock.

He is working to develop drone training for officers in his department.

Earlier this week, Hitchcock deployed his drone to capture a suspect who was running from in the 300 block of Maple Street.  Police were serving an arrest warrant and the man took off. The drone was able to track the suspect and help position officers on the ground who made a quick arrest.

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”We love when we can implement some new technology and it works out and everyone gets to go home safe that night,” said Hitchcock.

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A drone was also used by the Manteca Police department to catch fleeing suspects under similar circumstances. In Manteca, drones were officially put in use last year.

The drones can fly 400 feet in the air and Hitchcock sees a future with their use.

“It seems like more and more departments are moving towards it and I highly encourage it because this new technology is priceless for us,” Hitchcock said.

It’s a great tool for smaller departments that don’t have a police helicopter and often have to rely on a CHP chopper for mutual aid. Hitchcock says drones are also cost effective.

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“Helicopters can run $1,000 an hour to keep them in the air; this is a one time purchase of about $4,000,” Hitchcock said.

It’s a small investment paying huge dividends for the small department.

Hitchcock said they are working on purchasing a much larger drone equipped with two cameras, a zoom lens, and the capability to capture heat signatures at night.

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The drones cannot be used for surveillance and drone-licensed officers are often called to the scene of traffic accidents, crime scenes, and situations where police are serving a warrant on a suspect with a history of running from police.