On a windy, chilly Thursday (Oct. 11) afternoon, the Galva fourth graders from Trista Dooley's class gathered outside the school to watch Henry County officers demonstrate Compact Law Enforcement Urban Surveillance (CLETUS), the county's new drone.

On a windy, chilly Thursday (Oct. 11) afternoon, the Galva fourth graders from Trista Dooley’s class gathered outside the school to watch Henry County officers demonstrate Compact Law Enforcement Urban Surveillance (CLETUS), the county’s new drone.

The drone was donated by Community State Bank.

“The drone gift came about in a very grassroots way,” said CSB Chief Operations Officer Chanda Dowell, “through a story shared by a sheriff’s deputy who was literally ‘in the field.’” 

Deputy Scott Raley told Dowell a story about an incident where a suspect in a traffic stop on an area Interstate fled the scene into a cornfield. Local law enforcement agencies surrounded the cornfield and searched for over two hours in July temperatures that exceeded 100 degrees.

In addition to officer fatigue, the State Police helicopter’s heat sensors were stifled by the heat coming off the top of the corn. An employee of a nearby seed business offered the use of the business’s drone, and officers were able to find and arrest the suspect within 20 minutes with the use of the drone.

“At Community State Bank we work hard to minimize overhead and run an efficient organization,” said Dowell. “As I listened to this story, I knew this was a great gift for CSB to make to our community because it would protect the health and safety of our local law enforcement officers and allow them to protect our community in a more cost-efficient way.

“I talked to our bank leadership and we reached out to Sheriff (Kerry) Loncka with our interest in making the gift.”

Drone technology applied to law enforcement was still a new endeavor, and Loncka worked to identify officers interested in learning to pilot the new tool. In the meantime, a similar incident unfolded near Atkinson when a suspect fled an Illinois state trooper off the Interstate and disappeared into a cornfield after firing at officers with an assault rifle. Drone technology would have dramatically improved the safety of the officers who responded to that situation and aided in apprehending the suspect much more quickly. Additionally, missing persons incidents would also have been aided by use of the drone.

CLETUS is used by the county’s Special Operations Squad. There are other law enforcement agencies with drones in Illinois, but this is a first for the area.

Four task force members are licensed drone pilots, including Det. Joe Bedford, who provides leadership for implementing the drone within federal and state regulations.

With a flight range of six miles and a maximum flight height of 400 feet, the drone is operated using an electronic tablet and video-game style controller. By regulations, CLETUS is limited to 400 feet but can go much higher.

If the pilot does not have a direct sightline to the drone an additional spotter is required for flight. CLETUS is equipped with infrared sensors that can detect differences in the temperature of objects — a feature beneficial in locating lost children, dementia patients and crime suspects.

High-resolution cameras allow for image monitoring, still photos and video footage. Camera facial recognition capabilities allow the drone to lock onto and track targeted individuals. CSB’s donation also provided for the purchase of multiple batteries to keep the drone in flight as long as needed to locate a missing person or apprehend a suspect.

CLETUS must comply with all Federal Aviation Administration regulations, and federal and state privacy laws. 

Law enforcement are required to secure a search warrant from a judge before using a drone, with some exceptions for police and medical emergencies. Night flights require permission from the FAA. A flight log is kept for all usage.

At a time when county officers were anxiously awaiting the outcome of a referendum to dedicate additional sales tax funds to support law enforcement efforts locally, Loncka knew CSB’s gift could have an immediate impact on the efficiency of his department, the safety of his officers and the safety of Henry County and its residents. 

“We are fortunate that Henry County citizens support the work of local law enforcement and CSB’s gift is further evidence of that support,” said Loncka.

“The drone helps us work smarter with our resources and provides a higher level of officer safety in many situations,” said Bedford. “CSB made a gift to Henry County law enforcement that will benefit the public safety of our communities and our region for years to come.”