LOS LUNAS — The Los Lunas Police Department is seeing the benefit of new technology they have recently implemented, including a high-end drone and two electric bicycles to revamp the bike patrol program. 

“These tools help to supplement our officers abilities to better serve our community and we are thankful to have them available,” LLPD Chief Frank Lucero wrote in an email.  

The Los Lunas Police Department acquired its first drone in October 2023 to test as a proof of concept. LLPD Police Chief Frank Lucero said it has become an invaluable asset to the department and has been used on numerous occasions. Submitted photo.

LLPD officer Shawn Vigil, who’s in charge of the new LLPD drone program, said he thinks the use of drones in law enforcement is invaluable, so the department has purchased one DJI drone to test as a proof of concept. 

The $12,000 drone, acquired in October 2023, shoots 4k video at 30 frames per second, can operate at night using thermal vision and is weather proof, which allows the drone to be flown in “pretty heavy wind and light rain and snow.”  

One of the main advantages, Vigil said, is how the drone provides an alternative to manned aviation, such as helicopters, which are expensive to acquire and fly out on missions.  

“We wanted to have something to replace (manned aviation) that was cost effective and usable, especially when we can’t get air support from (nearby agencies),” he said. “Sometimes they’re busy with their own jurisdictions, so it’s nice to have something close to home we can rely on.” 

Vigil said the drone is deployed for missions about two to three times a week and it can be applied in a variety of scenarios, including search and rescue missions and crash reconstruction.  

“We want to be able to get an accurate depiction of a crash site, especially if someone has been hurt,” he said. “There’s a tactical application as well; it provides good situational awareness for our officers.”  

For example, Vigil said if there is a threat somewhere and officers are not able to search safely, the drone can be deployed to gather more information, such as if the suspects have any weapons or what their direction of travel is. This can then be relayed to officers to help them decide how to proceed.  

Vigil said LLPD is the first law enforcement agency in the county that’s used drones to this extent, but he thinks it’s a program that will become more widely adopted across the state as administrations begins to see the usefulness of it.  

“(The drone program) is new to our officers, which coincides with it being new to the public, so if they do have any questions they can always get a hold of me through the department to answer questions they may have,” Vigil concluded. 

Lucero said the drone has also assisted with DWI checkpoints, stop sign enforcement and has even helped the department with recruitment. The chief said he plans to acquire more drones to ensure there is one available to deploy on each shift.  

The LLPD drone’s thermal imaging camera shows an ariel view of the highway in Los Lunas. Submitted photo. 

“More importantly, we are working to get officers within the department properly trained and certified as drone pilots to ensure the safe, efficient and responsible deployment of these valuable tools,” said Lucero.  

LLPD detective Heather Killingsworth, who manages the e-bike program, is excited to bring bike patrol back to the department. She said bike patrol is valuable because “it allows us to get in and out of places quieter, easier and sometimes even faster because we can go places where cars can’t.”  

“I have always felt that bicycle patrols are an important component of community policing, which is a top priority for LLPD,” said Chief Lucero. 

The e-bike’s battery-powered motor can get riders to their destination faster than traditional peddling and they come with different speed settings that make biking uphill much less strenuous.  

“They’re really good for many situations,” Killingsworth said.  

“I remember a case where I was on the bike and had to go from a ditchbank to a neighborhood and the majority of the police cars had to go a very long route around to get to where they needed to be. With me on bike patrol, I was able to cut through a park so I beat some of the units to where we needed to be.” 

Killingsworth led the search for the bikes and decided on the specialized Tero 5.0 e-bike, which were purchased by the department in August 2023 for about $6,000. 

“It’s not only a good-looking bike, but a good-quality bike,” said Killingsworth. “It suits the needs we have to be out riding for several hours and it’s just really nice and well made.” 

Felina Martinez | News-Bulletin photo
LLPD detective Heather Killingsworth, left, and auto theft officer Miguel Lozano, right, show the two new LLPD e-bikes at National Night Out in August 2023. Killingsworth, who manages the e-bike program, says she is excited to bring bike patrol back to the department.

The LLPD had a bike patrol program several years ago with normal bikes, but the program slowly disappeared over time. The department is bringing it back though, the detective said, mainly to help conduct business checks and provide a more low-profile police presence.  

“But also visible when we need to be,” said Killingsworth, as the bikes are equipped with red and blue police lights and may also have a siren too in the future.  

“Theft is a high crime anywhere nowadays and retail theft is through the roof, so with the bikes we’re able to come into these business parking lots and be in the area without having a police car,” said Killingsworth. “We’re also able to ride our bikes through cars in parking lots to see if everything is OK.” 

Killingsworth said the bikes have already come in handy to prevent theft. She was able to recently stop a shoplifter in the the Home Depot and Lowes shopping plaza in Los Lunas while on patrol.  

“I wasn’t necessarily visible and a shoplifting did occur and the shoplifters never even knew I was there, so we were able to catch them being on bike patrol,” she said.  

Lucero said it’s crucial LLPD stays at the forefront of technology because, “(It) can give us the upper hand by increasing our efficiency and safety. Ultimately, allowing LLPD to provide the best services we can to our community, which is our ultimate goal.”

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Felina Martinez was born and raised in Valencia County. She graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2021. During her time at UNM, she studied interdisciplinary film, digital media and journalism. She covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, the School of Dreams Academy and the town of Peralta.