Florida police use motorised paragliders
Criminals may be used to looking over their shoulders for police, but a new crime-fighting tool introduced in Florida means they will now also be looking above their heads.
(TELEGRAPH) Officers in the town of Palm Bay are being sent aloft on motorised paragliders to act as spies in the sky, in a first-of-its-kind mission codenamed Operation Soar.
Suspended beneath parachutes wearing lawnmower-style motors on their backs, they will patrol the skies looking for burglars, car thieves and missing children, equipped with radios, cameras and GPS navigation systems.
The seats of their unconventional aircraft have been specially bulletproofed and the officers have standby parachutes, to protect against criminals who may be tempted to use them for target practice.
The paraglider patrol idea was hatched after hopes of launching unmanned drones to conduct aerial surveillance over Palm Bay were shot down by the Federal Aviation Administration, due to safety fears.
“Our agency is pretty innovative, we like to think out of the box and experiment with new ideas. The more we fly these paragliders, the more uses we’ll find for them,” said Lieutenant Joe Eakins.
The $25,000 (£17,000) petrol-powered machines, purchased using proceeds from the sale of criminal assets, can fly at speeds up to 63mph and at altitudes anywhere between two inches off the ground and 18,000ft.
Lt Eakins and his colleague, Lt Mark Renkens, will generally operate at around 400ft, on the lookout for trouble below. They will also assist in search-and-rescue operations, photographing crime scenes, assessing damage after disasters such as fires and hurricanes – and even in keeping an eye out for sharks loitering off Palm Bay’s beaches.
“We can see a lot from the air and it’s an easy and inexpensive way to bring aerial search capabilities to everyday law enforcement,” said Lt Eakins.
“By being more visible from the air than on the ground, we hope our aerial presence will also be a deterrent.”