Enumclaw police start new drone program

Seven new drones are now available to local officers to help map out car crashes, search for missing persons, or pursue fleeing suspects.

What’s the buzz about town? The EPD’s new drone squad.

The Enumclaw Police Department announced on March 7 that they have seven new drones that will assist them in mapping out car crashes, pursuing suspects, aiding search and rescue missions, and more.

Commander Mike Graddon, Evidence Technician Tyler Chilman, and other officers took advantage of the March 14 sun to practice with their drones on Cole Street, like landing them on targets, using their speaker capabilities, and programming automatic routes.

Graddon said the whole program cost about $35,000 — which includes the three days of training and the drones — and all that money came from the department’s drug seizure fund. There will be operational costs like replacing batteries or upgrading drone technology, but Graddon said that the EPD will be able to turn in old drones for credit to get new ones in order to limit additional costs. The life of the drones is around five years, he added.

Here’s a breakdown of the drones.

First are four “quick deploy” drones — medium in size with a camera that takes both photos and records video, perfect for gathering information about a car crash or aiding a Silver Alert search from above. Graddon’s named his bright orange drone “Thunderbird”; Chilman’s, which is black, “Raven One.”

Then there are the two smaller drones, dark with blade guards so that the EPD can fly them inside a home. According to Chilman, these drones can observe up to 90% of a home in order to clear a building, locate suspects, or even contact potentially dangerous individuals (e.g. a suicidal person with a firearm).

Finally, there’s “Scout 1” — it’s large and in charge with its ability to fly in inclement weather, a 9.3 mile range, more than 40 minutes of flight time, a max horizontal speed of more than 75 feet per second (or 51 miles an hour), spotlights, speaker system, and numerous cameras (including thermal).

All in all, Chilman said, the reason the EPD is using these drones is for speed and safety.

For one, the drones can perform some work far faster than an officer could with their boots on the ground — for car crashes, Chilman said the drones can map out the scene, recreate what happened, and take evidence photos far more quickly than a person can.

“It’s probably less than a quarter of the time,” he continued.

Locating lost seniors during a Silver Alert or walkaways from St. Elizabeth are far easier tasks as well. Chilman used an example of a Silver Alert a few years ago, when a senior got injured and lost in a nearby wooded area and was found a day later.

“Luckily, she lived, but with a drone, we would have found her within… minutes,” he said.

And then there’s Scout 1’s ability to use its thermal camera to locate injured hikers or a suspect that fled into the woods.

In January 2021, a Tacoma man fled Buckley police and other officers and ran into the woods near Evans Creek ORV Park, off state Route 165. Law enforcement wasn’t able to find him, but hikers discovered a body in 2022 (and it was finally identified in 2023).

As for safety, flying drones in a home or building to clear the area or locate a suspect keeps officers safe from potentially dangerous situations, like locating a suspect or a suicidal individual who might be armed. Graddon said that using a drone in these sorts of events could help de-escalate the situation, as the department could talk to an individual without sending in an armed officer

The drones don’t just help the local officers, but are also available to the city’s Public Works Department, the Enumclaw Fire Department, and outside agencies, as the EPD is the only department with drones between Sumner and Black Diamond.


With the EPD’s new ability to take to the skies, some people might be worried about their right to privacy.

But according to Graddon, the EPD has taking several steps to make sure no one’s privacy is violated.

“Nothing changes with your Fourth Amendment rights to privacy with drones,” Graddon said. “We still have to have search warrants for certain areas, or permission, or exigency.”

One way the department protects citizen privacy is by only using a drone camera when it’s properly stationed over a scene, like a car crash — the camera is not to record anything before or after, and the camera is also supposed to point up as a second layer of protection.

Second, officers are only to fly drones where officers are allowed to go; for example, during a Silver Alert, the EPD won’t fly over houses or backyards when searching for the missing person.

Pursuing a suspect is a different situation, of course — that’s the exigency situation Graddon mentioned — and would be one of the only times an EPD drone would cross private property.

If you see a drone and wonder whether it’s a private drone or the EPD’s, make sure to look around, since officers can only fly drones within their line of sight, so they should be nearby. This is a Federal Aviation Administration requirement.

Graddon added that “within reason, the drone may very temporarily go behind a building or tree for a brief moment.”

Enumclaw Police Deparment’s Commander Mike Graddon flying “Thunderbird,” his bright orange drone. Photo by Ray Miller-Still

Enumclaw Police Deparment’s Commander Mike Graddon flying “Thunderbird,” his bright orange drone. Photo by Ray Miller-Still