The Randolph County Sheriff’s Department has joined the drone age with the receipt of one of the current-generation unmanned aerial vehicles courtesy the County of Randolph’s Law Enforcement Restitution Fund (LERF).

Two members of Sheriff Mark Nichols’ staff displayed the drone and explained its operational features to the Huntsville Rotary Club at its luncheon meeting at Don’s Family Style Buffet last week. Merl Riley, a Huntsville agribusinessman who is chairman of the Randolph County LERF, was the Rotary Club’s chairman for the program.

The drone will be used by Nichols and his staff in law enforcement, emergency response and search and rescue operations.

With Sheriff Nichols in the audience, Deputies Roy Hardt and Ethan Fay said the drone was just received by the agency hours before the Rotary meeting. Indeed Deputies Hardt and Fay were working with Fusion Technologies owner Brandon Lucas learning the drone’s significant applications as a new tool of the Sheriff’s Department.

Hardt said the drone would have been invaluable in recent searches for lost children and a wandering senior citizen afflicted with dementia. Sheriff Nichols added the drone would have been a crime-fighting blessing if law enforcement officers had possessed one during the search for fugitives after the most recent Moberly bank robbery.

The deputies noted the drone possesses computer-controlled cameras, is powered by 21st Century batteries and may be linked with smart phones, tablets, laptops and even desktop computers, thus allowing commands to be sent via a keyboard wherever the drone may be deployed.

The drone LERF purchased for the Randolph County Sheriff’s Department has a headset accessory allowing a deputy hands-free use of his computer keyboard and, therefore, more precise instruction on observing the target or target area.

Drones have brought law enforcement agencies like the Randolph County Sheriff’s Department into an era in which they now work with airframe manufacturers, software developers, component suppliers and service companies. Nichols, Hardt and Fay complimented the role of Fusion’s Lucas in assisting them with the purchase and training on the new drone.

LERF committees were created around Missouri following the General Assembly’s passage of legislation in 2004. The legislation allows counties to create funds to help reimburse law enforcement for the costs arrest, incarceration and prosecution.

After Missouri counties create a LERF, judges can require offenders to pay up to $300 as part of their probation or suspended sentence. Those convicted of minor crimes with sentences of not more than 15 days in jail or a $300 fine and traffic offenses cannot be made to pay into the fund, however.

The General Assembly determined that the money collected in a LERF can be used to pay for just about anything an agency may need, from drug investigations to police equipment and work with their county prosecutor. A drone clearly fits into that description.

The LERF was the legislative brainchild of former Rep. Rob Mayer (R-Dexter). “It’s not going to be a huge money generator,” Mayer said at the time LERF became law, “but every little bit helps.”

The law, passed as HB 1183, “makes the criminal pay back the costs to the county that he or she has caused by his or her illegal acts.”

Riley explained that the Randolph County LERF committee was appointed by the three-member Board of Commissioners. And, as Rep. Mayer said, “LERF doesn’t raise a lot of money but it allows us to provide much-needed equipment like this drone,” Riley added.

By Sam Richardson | Monitor-Index