The Pueblo County Sheriff's Office now has eyes in the sky for public safety purposes as it has launched a drone program following two years of securing funding for the aircraft.

The Sheriff's Office Aerial Response and Rescue team went live on May 31 and has already conducted 11 missions with the drones, Capt. Steve Bryant of the sheriff's office, who is the leader of the SOARR team, said on Tuesday during an event announcing the team and the program.

Of those missions, several were related to search and rescues, some had to do with evidence documentation related to crimes, and drones were used once for a traffic accident.

The drones will be deployed for life-saving missions and crime scene documentation, Bryant said.

Six rotary unmanned aerial vehicles and two fixed-wing aircraft were purchased by the sheriff's office with a $30,000 Department of Homeland Security grant that took about two years to obtain, Bryant said. The average cost of the drones was about $2,800-$3,000.

Two of the UAVs are equipped with cameras that allow for thermal imaging and infrared detection. Two other aircraft are equipped with a zoom camera, which is beneficial in missing people searches, said Gayle Perez, the public information officer for the sheriff's office. And two other drones have a 20-megapixel camera, which is useful in evidence documentation.

The DHS grant was awarded to Pueblo County as part of the southern region, which consists of five counties including Fremont, Huerfano, Custer and Las Animas. The equipment purchased with the grant is considered a regional asset, allowing for the sheriff's office SOARR team to be deployed anywhere in the region.

Bryant said there are 13 members in the SOARR, and 10 have completed their Federal Aviation Administration pilots test and passed. Three more members are currently studying for that exam and will be taking it soon.

"To become a pilot, they had to go through extensive training," Bryant said of the team members. "They have to pass the FAA requirements, but we also have three or four training drones these individuals had to master. Once they mastered that, they had a practical course that they had to conduct and be proficient in. Once they've done that and get their FAA license, then they're deployable on missions."

Sheriff Kirk Taylor said he is excited about adding UAVs as a tool for the sheriff's office.

"We are looking forward to the benefits the UAVs are going to bring us in conducting searches, helping with rescues and with the mapping of crime scenes and serious traffic accidents," he said. "This is going to be a tremendous asset to Pueblo County as well as our surrounding counties."

rseverance@chieftain.com

Twitter: @Ryan_Sevvy