Detectives in Cecil County Sheriff’s Office in Maryland used one of the agency’s two recently purchased drones to locate nearly $400,000 in stolen construction equipment stashed behind a barn on an Elkton-area property, police reported last week.
This was the first official CCSO drone mission since six agency deputies and Sheriff Scott Adams earned their FAA licenses to fly the small unmanned aircraft systems after purchasing the units with seized funds, passing a written exam and receiving practical flight training earlier this year.
Police in Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania have been investigating a construction equipment theft ring. The drone surveillance led to the arrest of one suspect, an Elkton resident, whom investigators have declined to identify because of the ongoing probe. More arrests are expected, police said.
An estimated 19 pieces of equipment had been stolen from construction sites in Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania over several including excavators, augers, backhoes, trailers, stump grinders, chippers, bulldozers and at least one car hauler, valued at approximately $394,000.
New Jersey State Police contacted the Cecil County Sherriff's office with information regarding a possible Elkton resident in connection with the tri-state thefts.
“Surveillance operations were conducted where the suspect was observed traveling between Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey. The suspect was identified several times frequenting a piece of property in the 2000 block Barksdale Road,” Lt. Michael Holmes of the Cecil County Sheriff’s Office explained.
Cecil County investigators went to the Barksdale property, but, from the ground, they were unable to establish probable cause to search.“It’s very large piece of property. From the road, we couldn’t see anything,” Holmes said.
Adams piloted the drone above the periphery of the suspect property on March 9 and using the drone’s camera was able to videotaped the stolen construction equipment behind a barn. The video led to a court ordered search of the property and residence. Holmes said the Barksdale property apparently served as a storage place for equipment stolen by people involved in the theft ring.
During a press conference, Adams explained that, without the drone, it would have required “more legwork and more time” to establish probable cause to search the Barksdale property. He said that using a helicopter for their surveillance would have cost over $6,000.
With the success of this first drone mission, Cecil County plans to use the drones in a variety of situations, including documenting crime and accident scenes.