Law enforcement in St. Johns and Nassau counties enlist the help of drones in everyday work

Local law enforcement agencies are taking their eyes into the sky.

“I think it’s one of those things in law enforcement; you have to keep up with all the technology out there available to you, serve our citizens and protect our citizens and our visitors,” St. Johns County Sheriff Robert Hardwick said.

Drones are becoming just as resourceful as any other piece of gear.

They search for missing persons, conduct disaster assessments, catch bad guys on the run, and more.

At the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, its drone team took off just last year.

The 13-person, 10-drone team is responsible for several cases, recently documenting Tristyn Bailey’s crime scene.

“Drones were used extensively searching the wooded areas for where we believe Tristyn Bailey was located at the time,” Sheriff Hardwick said.

The St. Johns County drone team was officially created in June 2020. Sheriff Hardwick said they primarily use their drones to find missing persons.

“It takes that human element out, even though we have our aviation unit here in the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, it implements that rapid response to something we need immediately,” Sheriff Hardwick said.

In Nassau County, the Sheriff’s Office officially formed its drone team in January 2021. The team had its first win this month when its newest drone was used in tracking down a suspect who allegedly shot up a convenience store.

“When we were surveying part of the fields, we saw this heat anomaly that didn’t match the rest of the background. We flew closer to it, [and] realized it’s definitely a person,” Nassau County Sheriff’s Detective Danielle Shough said. She is the head of the drone team as well.

The infrared camera picked up the suspect whom deputies said they would not have found otherwise.

“We were able to keep an eye on him to make sure he didn’t run in any other direction,” Detective Shough said.

She added their drones create situational awareness.

“The feed that we’re able to give back to our commanding officers, let them make their decisions by actually seeing a live view of what’s going on, especially if we’re serving a search warrant,” Detective Shough said.

Both teams in Nassau and St. Johns Counties said they can accomplish a lot more with this new technology.