School of Public Service and Administration
Criminal Justice graduate well-prepared in using high-flying, cutting-edge technology
The first Criminal Justice graduate to become a certified drone pilot, Andrew Culp has used his knowledge to benefit law enforcement agencies in this new area. He feels that the Anderson University School of Public Service and Administration opened professional doors that would have not been possible otherwise.
When did you finish up at AU?
I graduated in 2021. I started, I think, two weeks later at the York County sheriff's office. We border Charlotte, North Carolina, so we stay fairly busy. I started out on patrol after training, and then the Criminal Justice Academy here in South Carolina. It was January of 2022, so it was a few months after that that I actually started on patrol working on my own. They saw the experience that I had. I was already certified, so they asked me to be part of the drone team.
We'll actually keep a couple of drones in our car. Keep it for a week at a time. We usually go assist with our K9 handlers a lot of times, whether it be for missing persons, people who have been chased by other deputies and they ran, whether it be a car, chase or foot chase, whatever it may be, suicidal people, anything that poses an immediate risk to safety.
So what are the types of calls you use drones for the most?
A lot of them are calls for service related to anywhere from an assault to domestic violence. Some type of crime has occurred there at that house or apartment, or wherever it may be, that person's left on foot, and we go out to assist K9 trying to locate that person.
Tell us about the drones your department uses.
When I first started we had 2 DJI Matrice 210s. Drones are like iphones. They get outdated with their technology and software quickly. Those were the drones we had at the time; they were getting older. They're starting to work on some new projects as far as what to go with next. We now have two Skydio drones, which are an up and coming company that are, I believe, made in the U.S. Usually I'll keep at least one in my car. Those drones have FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared) capabilities, which is thermal imaging, as well as a regular zoom camera. The FLIR cameras are what we use most, because a lot of times we're going out at night.
Tell us about the community you serve.
Fort Mill is actually where I work. We border close to Charlotte—right next door. With Carowinds, part of the park’s in South Carolina, part of it is in North Carolina, so we get a lot of traffic. We've got a couple of entrances that are here in South Carolina to get to the park. We've got a lot of hotels, apartment complexes, there's some nicer neighborhoods in Fort Mill as well, so there’s a very dense population. Fort Mill is a lot different from York, which is a lot more rural. It's a lot more square miles the deputies have to cover, but fewer people, so it's kind of a trade off. There are always new people coming in, especially being right there on I-77. So we stay busy. We try to keep up with the trends of crime… It's constantly evolving.
Tell us about coming to AU.
I came to Anderson University in 2017. I actually started out as a mechanical engineering student. My plan was to go to AU for a couple of years. At that time they had a bridge program to transfer to (another university). It would have been my second semester of sophomore year, so the spring semester I was getting ready to transfer over. I decided I didn't really want to do that. I enjoyed what I was doing to a degree, but I didn't want to sit behind a desk. I like being out and about using my hands and doing things, talking to people.
I started talking to some friends who are in Criminal Justice. I decided to stay at Anderson for a little while, take some Gened classes, so if I still wanted to go to engineering, they would still transfer as credits. But I want to take a couple of Criminal Justice classes just to see how I liked it, because it was something that always interested me a little bit.
I took some of those classes. I enjoyed it. I stayed there at Anderson, and finished out my college education in criminal justice. I enjoyed every bit of it. I haven't looked back since.
Was there anybody who influenced you to go into law enforcement?
I had some relatives in law enforcement—they were all distant. I had an uncle who was still in the fire department with me, but he was in public service… that occupation was something that interested me in general. So I started volunteering with fire and then, along with the Criminal Justice classes. It kind of piqued an interest in law enforcement rather than the fire service. I still do it on a volunteer and a part time basis. But really the classes and speaking with some friends of mine who were at AU in criminal justice—that kind of piqued my interest, and once I got hooked I was on a roll from there.
Looking back on your days and Anderson University, is there anything particularly that stands out as being most helpful to your profession?
Probably one of the biggest things was actually Major’s (David Williams) Drone program. I was one of the first students to go through his class. I was the first pilot to come out of that class. Through the happenstance of meeting Sheriff Max Dorsey in Chester County… where I live… I met him through the fire service, but through that, along with Major’s drone program, I was a certified pilot. Sheriff Dorsey offered me an internship basically writing their policy and procedure, which is a big opportunity for somebody that has never worked in law enforcement. He wanted to start implementing drones. He didn't have any at the time, but they wanted me to set the framework of how to actually get those drones, get them set up, and actually set operational standards.
I went down there. I wrote their policy and procedure, which, when I left, I was told that it was currently being implemented and it was being written into their current standards.
So that kind of kicked off my career. It's a big part of my resumé. That class along with getting certified through the major's program was a big reason I was able to get into York County's drone program so quickly. Usually there's a wait period of 18 months prior to being able to put on a specialized team, but seeing as how I had as much experience as I had, they were able and willing to waive that for me so I could then just go ahead and jump right in and start flying.
Were they flying drones in York county before you came on the scene?
I believe they first got their drones in 2018. Detective Mike Doty was killed in 2018 in a line-of-duty death. And after that they looked into some surveillance options, because at the time we didn't have a helicopter, we still don't. It's an exorbitant amount of money to try to operate and keep the maintenance cost. So they actually purchased some drones after that, which is when they got their first one. I'm not taking credit for it, but since I've come on it's there's been kind of an increase in people interested in wanting to do it. There's been some rebooting of some programs and stuff. So it's helped out as far as what we're able to do, purchasing the new drones. There were a few pilots here when I first started. Now there's quite a few. It's progressing, and we're definitely coming up with the times as far as being comparable to other agencies.
Do you guys train your own officers on drones?
If somebody is at the sheriff's office, and they want to be able to fly drones and work on our team with us, we have training once a month… Typically it’s two separate days because we work separate shifts. They would come, fly a little bit, because through the Part 107 license, which is the FAA license that Major Williams helps people to obtain, you can fly under somebody else's license. If you weren't certified, and I was out there flying a drone, I could allow you to fly under my license so they'll come out and fly with us, have some conversations and see what kind of interest they have. We’ll actually usually set up one of those training days for basically a book day, so we have some training and studying material that we go through with people. They'll go through and look at a lot of the regulations and the standards you have to meet in order to fly one of those drones, and a lot of it's going to be up to them as far as trying to study. There's plenty of material online as well as a lot of videos, especially on YouTube.
Is there a time on your job when you feel a sense of accomplishment because of a good outcome?
I think there's a lot of little moments like that. Domestic violence is something we deal with quite a bit. I don't necessarily have one particular call in mind, but a lot of times when you go to those calls, whether it be male or female, it works both ways. To be able to help somebody in one of those situations where they're not sure what do, they don't know how to get out of that scenario and feel like they're kind of stuck, and you you're able to go out there, serve justice whether a crime has been committed, but also to be able to provide resources that the county has access to to say, “hey, look, if you need a place to stay our victims advocate can help you find somewhere. They can get you some money for transport, for gas—stuff like that.” So it's very rewarding to be able to go out and help somebody who's in a seemingly helpless situation. That's probably one of the biggest ways it's been rewarding for me.
Describe the drone training at AU when you were there.
From the beginning of the semester until I think it was spring break, we went through the rules and regulations of the Part 107, and for somebody who's not familiar with aeronautical charts or flying in general, instrument related to flying rules, stuff like that, it's a lot of information, because if you pull up a picture of an aeronautical chart… There's a ton of information on that chart and there's a lot of things on there you have to know for your test. So from start to spring break, we went through all the rules and regulations of Part 107, the ins and outs trying to learn that. During spring break, you were tasked with going out, and if you were ready hopefully you were by that point, out of spring break, it was your task to get your Part 107 license, schedule that and go take your test, which I think I was the first one to do that.
We also looked into the application of drones from a legal sense. We looked at the Fourth Amendment, which is search and seizure. If we're going out to fly a drone not necessarily in an emergency situation, but more of a surveillance, can we do that legally? Are we able to articulate that? Is it going to be a Fourth Amendment violation? We looked at a lot of different case law. It was kind of a toss up between those two for the rest of the semester, which actually helped out quite a bit, especially being able to know when you can and can't fly that drone legally from a Fourth Amendment standpoint.
Where do you see drone technology going?
When I was coming through the class I knew of drones, but I had never flown any, and I think timing wise, when I took that course, drones were really exploding. There's always new technology. They're always enhancing their ability to have more zoom capabilities or wider field of view, whatever it may be. I think it's going to continue.
We've seen the stuff on the news as far as people using them to deliver packages and all kinds of different uses for them. You see realtors using them now for aerial shots of homes. I've got a good friend in construction who uses those for taking pictures of land that will use them for power line inspections, bridge inspections—there's a lot of different applications for them. So I think you'll see those continue to grow a little bit. I think we've kind of hit the major boom… they'll definitely continue to progress.
Anderson was at the forefront of at the time a drone program for criminal justice students. To my knowledge there was no other school that was catering to the Criminal Justice realm, and definitely not to the degree that Major (Williams) was able to establish that program and that level of teaching. It was rare to have somebody teaching a drone class for criminal justice, but also given that level of information as far as the Fourth Amendment… he was able to compile all the case law that he had at a time, and since drones are so new, it takes a while to get technology like that into the level of the Supreme Court to establish national case law. He was able to find some other things that were able to help us kind of determine how the courts may side on some things with drones. So it was extremely innovative at the time, especially for Anderson, to be able to establish that program and provide the level of education they were able to.
What advice would you give someone considering that kind of area in law enforcement?
Probably the best thing anybody can do, and this kind of translates to other fields as well but especially in public service, is to get out there. Volunteer if you can. A lot of departments are able to do ride-alongs. I was able to do one while I was in school with York County. I was able to get out and ride with somebody, and that was kind of my “aha” moment.
When you’re not flying drones, what other things do you do for the York County Sheriff’s Office?
My primary position is uniform patrol deputy, so I'm out taking calls, responding to wrecks on the interstate, or whether it be a domestic violence and assault robbery—whatever it may be. And then the drone team at our sheriff's office is a specialized extra duty assignment. I do have the ability, thankfully the sheriff's office, while I'm on duty, if somebody needs a drone, I can go and assist them.
How do the drones compare to drones most people can buy?
They share a lot of the same features. It’s probably not often someone is going to be able to afford the style of drones that we fly, obviously because of the cost, the level of technology. A lot of people are not going to be able to have easy access to FLIR technology if their financial situation doesn't allow them to spend $10,000-plus on a drone. One of the things that we have that we're currently testing is called a beacon. It's basically like a TV remote. We can hand that to our K9 handlers. They can activate it and it's basically a second remote, but what it does is it allows us if we're out flying in the area, and let's say they come into the situation they need immediate oversight, we can press a button on our controllers, and it flies directly to them. Technology like that is not readily available to somebody that doesn't have the money to spend on it, but they do share a lot of the same basic characteristics.