In an e-mail, Michael O'Shea, a law enforcement program manager, wrote, "We [are] looking for safe and low-cost aviation technologies that would allow an agency to have that "eye-in-the-sky" to look for marijuana grows and meth labs; to take pictures of critical infrastructure like schools and public buildings; to search for lost children, hikers, boaters; and to assess the damage from natural and man-made disasters."
The DOJ's Aviation Technology Program is also exploring unmanned aircraft and light-sport, fixed-wing aircraft.
There has been some initial success with powered parachutes, which are similar to paragliders, but larger and more unwieldy. O'Shea said a police department in Sells, Ariz., recently used a powered parachute to recover two bodies that had been washed out of a car in rising water.
"The ability to give closure to the families quickly was the best result of this flight mission," wrote O'Shea.
The Palm Bay program is supported by paraglider manufacturer Dudek. The company has loaned the police department two gas-powered paragliders. After six months, the department will assess whether the gliders are effective and decide whether to purchase them for about $25,000.
Palm Bay's high-flying officers certainly are sold on them.
"It's a lot more fun to patrol in that than in a patrol car," said Renkens. "Absolutely."