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Specialized Fremont Police Drone Helps Find Missing Deaf Teen

FREMONT (KPIX) -- Earlier this month, Fremont police used special technology to help find a deaf student reported missing in the East Bay during a search effort that was complicated by rough terrain and darkness.

Newly released video shows it was pitch black was when Fremont officers launched their drone in their search for a mentally troubled teen. The 17-year-old boy had run away from the California School for the Deaf.

It was during the during the nighttime search that the drone's forward-looking infra-red camera proved invaluable.

"You can see how dark it is, as opposed to the thermal image being provided by the FLIR camera," said Fremont Police Lt. Matt Snelson.

A split screen shot showed the moment when the drone spotted the youth in the field, the heat in his body identifying his location.

Officers were sent to the field, but the boy's friends, who were also tracking him on social media, ran to thearea where the drone was hovering and found him hiding under some bushes. They can be seen directing officers to their location with their cell phone flash lights.

The boy was safely recovered and he is now getting the help he needs.

"In this circumstance, without this technology, this could have been a protracted search. It could have delayed our ability to help this person. So this technology really helped," Snelson said.

The Fremont Police Department has deployed drones and certified pilot-officers to work on every duty shift, so at least one drone is available for use on any given day.

Police say drones can be used for search and rescue, and for surveillance and communication in barricade situations, as was recently seen in the city of Campbell where a drone was used to keep eyes on a gunman who was holed up in a Denny's restaurant.

But their use has been controversial. Oakland criminal defense attorney Manjula Martin told KPIX the issues are the public's right to privacy and the potential for illegal searches by the government.

"In terms of public safety, this is a case where the drone was used for good. So as long as the government is balancing privacy with the safety of citizens, I think it's ok," said Martin. "But it's a fine line to walk, and you always have to be careful of our constitutional rights."

Fremont Police say drone use is restricted.

"Some of the don'ts in our policy is we don't do random surveillance. We don't have them in the air 24 hours a day flying around the city," Lt. Snelson said. "They are for specific, articulable reasons. Most of the time it's to find missing or fleeing people or people who pose a
threat to our community."

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