OSP rolling out airborne surveillance tech statewide, next in Butler County

‘Downlink’ connects law enforcement on the ground with video feeds from drones and helicopters in the air.
Published: Sep. 20, 2021 at 10:07 PM EDT
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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WXIX) - The Ohio State Highway Patrol’s Aviation Unit is working to expand technology throughout the state that connects law enforcement on the ground to live feeds from aircraft in the skies.

The next deployment of the technology called “Downlink” will be in Butler County.

A tower will be constructed allowing the technology to be used with helicopters and drones at a maximum range of 70 miles.

It’s just one of many such towers that OSP Staff Lt. Justin Cromer hopes blanket the state one day.

Cromer leads the Aviation Unit. He says OSP aircraft can deploy anywhere in the state in 75 minutes and do the work of up to 100 grounded officers.

Cromer says about 70 percent of the missions his unit flies are for other agencies. Speed enforcement remains the primary mission, but the unit has been mobilized for other uses, including surveillance of demonstrations and search and rescue missions.

Police used Downlink during last year’s protests in Columbus, for example. Airborne cameras caught a man with a gun in a crowd of demonstrators. The aircraft followed the suspect out of the crowd into a neighborhood where officers made an arrest.

Downlink was also employed earlier this summer in an attempt to find Emerie Schrandorf-Woode, who drowned in a Warren County pond.

“We’re not just up there looking. We’ve got very specific targets,” Cromer said.

In cases of suspected criminal activity, the unit gets briefings on their targets that usually include criminal background, vehicle of transit and known addresses.

“Most of the time we’re involved, I feel like we were the difference-maker,” Cromer said. “So they would not have been found had we not been involved in it.”

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