MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - The Myrtle Beach Police Department is hoping to become the first of Horry County law enforcement to bring eyes to the sky. The department is looking for the go ahead Tuesday from Myrtle Beach City Council to buy a their first aviation unit, a gyrocopter.
It's similar to a helicopter, but smaller and more maneuverable. Unlike a helicopter, the gyrocopter must use a runway to fly. The department is buying it to improve policing, specifically drug enforcement. It can monitor narcotics and SWAT operations from the sky, aid K-9 tracking and search efforts, ocean and water search and rescues, natural disaster deployment as well as monitor traffic and major events.
The gyrocopter's cameras will give live camera feeds back to ground units to help gather intel. The cameras have both color and heat sensing capabilities. However, the gyrocopter will prove integral to searches because of it's object tracking and 'gimbal lock' accessories. The object tracking allows the gyrocopter to automatically steer to keep the subject centered in the camera frame. The 'gimbal lock' allows that frame to stay locked on the subject. The gyrocopter can detect a person from up to 4,000 feet in the air, and video recorded by the camera can also be downloaded by ground units.
"It gives us an asset that we may not have had in the past. Its uses would include surveillance...for either drug use or other use...tracking, if needed....ocean water rescues...just generally keeping an eye on things in the event we needed to do that," Myrtle Beach city spokesman Mark Kruea said.
Currently, there are no law enforcement aviation assets in Horry County. As of now, agencies will borrow aviation units like helicopters from outside agencies. In the Myrtle Beach Police Department's presentation to city council, it claimed the gyrocopter and thirty times the patrol capabilities as ground units. The report says a patrol car can effectively patrol only less than a quarter mile every hour. It also states a square mile search by foot takes 454 man hours. The gyrocopter can effectively patrol almost 8 miles every hour, and search one square mile in twelve minutes.
The new aviation equipment and gyrocopter is estimated to cost $207,000. However, not a dime will be taxpayer money. The entirety of the cost will be paid by drug seized funds. After that, the city's general fund will pay about $12,000 in annual upkeep costs. The department estimates hourly operation costs to be between $30 and $50 an hour. The police department already has two licensed pilots within the department to fly the gyrocopter, which must be manned.
The Myrtle Beach Police Department researched the plans to buy a gyrocopter by visiting a Kentucky police department who currently has one, and by also speaking with various other departments across the country who currently own one. The department already has a contract in the works to buy a gyrocopter, Kruea said. He added council will pass the motion to buy the aviation asset at Tuesday's city council meeting.
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