A domestic violence suspect. A gunman on the loose. And a missing child.

These are the kinds of calls Unmanned Aerial Vehicles commonly known as "drones' have helped to assist Modesto Police in helping solve crime.

"They're incident specific," said Lt. Ivan Valencia of the Modesto Police Department who oversees the department's Unmanned Aerial Vehicle program. "I know some of the concerns are privacy concerns. But, these things will not be up in the air randomly. They will deployed when needed."

Modesto Police began their drone program in April 2016, with two drones. They now have nine different drones.

Eleven police officers are trained to use them, along with three firefighters. They are equipped with cameras, and some with heat sensing capability.

The first one cost the department close to $75,000.

But Valencia says the price of drones have dropped significantly to the point where they can be purchased for $1,000 or less. The money to purchase them has come out of the department's general fund.

Along with solving crime, Valencia says the drones have also been used to give firefighters a birdseye view of a fire or natural disasters, such as flooding along rivers.

"It's been a force multiplier. It saves us the resource of manpower. We can do with a drone what it would take five or six people to do," said Valencia.

The drone is also used indoors.

Last August, when a man with a gun fled into a Modesto mini mart, the drone was flown in and gave police officers a view of the store. By doing so, it was determined where the man was hiding, then a SWAT team moved in and the man surrendered peacefully.

Stockton Police has followed suit launching its drone program, called the Unmanned Aerial Support, in the middle of January 2018. Their two drones were purchased through donations collected by the Stockton Police Foundation.


Like a buzzing bee, for nearly two years, the Modesto Police Department has taken advantage of technology using drones high in the sky.

“They’re incident specific. I know some of the concerns are privacy concerns. But these things will not be up in the air randomly," says Lt. Ivan Valencia of the Modesto Police Department.

Valencia heads up the department’s drone program.

They’re also called Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or UAV's.

11 police officers and 3 firefighters are trained to pilot the drones.

Valencia says the drones have been used to find missing people, carjacking suspects and a domestic violence suspect on the run.

“And he was believed to be armed. So he ran into an open field and we used one of our UAV’s to clear that field and he must of observed it and started waving at the UAV and gave up to the UAV," says Valencia.

The department has 9 drones.

They can record video.

And two have heat sensors.

The first drone cost $75,000.

But since then, the price has dropped significantly to less than $1000 each.

Not only are drones deployed for crime scenes, but for fires, too.

“The UAV can do what takes 5, 6 people to do. So we can put that up in the air, get a full 360 around whatever’s burning or what we’re searching," says Josh Hauselmann of the Modesto Fire Department.

It came in handy when this condemned apartment building caught fire last year.

“You know the power lines, make sure were not going to interrupt the power lines, making sure these guys are supposed to go up where they’re supposed to go up," said Hauselmann.

And scenes can be viewed remotely, like in the department’s Real Time Crime Center, which is like an incident command center, or even on an internal APP.

And they can be used indoors to look for suspects.

Last August, they used a drone to search for a gunman inside a mini mart.

They found his hiding spot, a SWAT team moved in and the man surrendered.

“It’s not big brother watching you. It’s a specific tool that improves the safety not only for the law enforcement personnel, but also for the public," added Valencia.

More than 70 different agencies, including federal and state, from around the country have visited Modesto to check out their drone program.

Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department, Ripon, Escalon and Oakdale all have drone programs.

Stockton Police began it's drone program called the Unmanned Aerial Support in the middle of January.

Their two drones were purchased through donations collected by the Stockton Police Foundation.