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Drones, Jet Skis Boost Public Safety in Ocean City

Drones, Jet Skis Boost Public Safety in Ocean City

By mvitale, OCNJDAILY

The bustling tourism season in Ocean City is quickly approaching and that means throngs of visitors will be packing the beaches, Boardwalk and downtown.

The Ocean City Police Department and the Ocean City Beach Patrol are well-prepared to keep tourists and residents safe.

The police department recently brought on a major tool to help with fighting crime, locating missing persons and assisting with daily police work – drones. And the Beach Patrol is fine-tuning the lifeguards’ watercraft skills for rescues.

Police Lt. Mark Pancoast is in charge of the department’s new drone program, which began in March.

Lt. Mark Pancoast, holding the orange landing pad, and other members of the new drone unit are honing their skills.

During a recent training session on the beach with some officers in the drone unit, Pancoast explained the importance of drones in assisting with police work.

“The drones help when we have missing people on the Boardwalk and for missing children who get separated from their parents or during the nighttime when people wander away from a party,” Pancoast said as he maneuvered one of the three police drones above the ocean.

Pancoast was flying the largest of the police drones. It can fly up to 400 feet high.

“The officer that walks up in the middle of the night onto the beach can only see about 200 feet. This drone can see with its infrared a huge amount of area,” Pancoast explained.

The drone quickly zipped from the 12th Street beach to the Music Pier at 9th Street beach and back again. Then it slowly moved down the Boardwalk.

The large drone hovers above the landing pad.

Drone technology gives officers a view from a laptop of the movements of the drone. It highlighted moving images on the Boardwalk.

Pancoast showed the images and pointed to the significance of such a tool for locating people, calling it a “real time, eye in the sky video.”

Police Chief Bill Campbell also emphasized the importance of drone technology and touted Pancoast for his efforts with the new program.

“Lt. Pancoast has been the lead on our drone program and has done a phenomenal job,” Campbell said. “I’m fully supportive of the program, and think it will prove invaluable over time.”

Officers look at the controls as one flies the drone.

The officers on the drone unit are as follows: Detective Matthew Crowley, Patrolman Jacob Diggons, Patrolman Louis DiLuzio, Detective Colby Meloy, Patrolman Shane Rauner, Patrolwoman Lexi Sharp, Patrolman Brandon Smith, Patrolman Tom Strunk, Patrolman Paul Stryker, Sgt. Doug Varnold and Detective Rich Wilent and computer technician in the department Aaron Mazza.

The department has three drones. There is the big drone flown by Pancoast during the beach training session. A smaller drone is used for rapid deployment that goes with the drone flight-certified officers. The third drone can get in and out of structures or tight places.

Last month, the police department utilized the drone in a fraud case.

“Someone from out of town was trying to defraud people. They were successful on day one,” Pancoast said while showing an aerial photo taken of the arrest. “On day two, we had advanced notice they were coming and brought the drone up. There is the arrest. It’s all there.”

The significance of the “eye in the sky” can mean the difference for an officer’s next move.

“We had an incident on the bridge the other day. Someone had a mental issue. We had the drone in the air, and you could see everything,” Pancoast said while noting that the incident was quelled.

He continued, “Right now our feet are on the ground. But when we fly a drone, we can see 360 degrees, where the officers on the ground could only see what is in front of them. Now, they can see a wide range.”

All three drones are in flight at the same time in this photo. (Courtesy of OCPD)

Pancoast said that the department could use one of the smaller drones, which is equipped with bumpers to navigate inside a house, if, for instance, there is a need for a well-being check or for even a hostage situation.

“About 10 years ago we had a well-being check. It took four hours. Streets were blocked off. We had to figure out how to safely enter,” Pancoast recalled. “The amount of time it took, we could have simply sent a drone in and saw what it was. We could have opened the streets area and people could have calmed down.”

When the police entered the home during the well-being check, the man inside was already dead.

Pancoast emphasized that the police are not there to “snoop” in people’s houses, but rather use the drones only if needed responding to incidents.

Currently, there are five officers FAA-certified to fly drones on the police department. By the fall, Pancoast said, the hope is for all 13 officers in the unit to be flight certified.

“Drones are a great tool,” he said. “The mission is officer safety, public safety and giving us real-time aerial footage. The drones are our eyes in the sky.”

The Ocean City Fire Department also has a drone program that has also been in place since the spring.

Just as police officers were drone training to assist in their policing, lifeguards with the Ocean City Beach Patrol were sharpening their skills with some Jet Ski instruction.

Lifeguards are training to get Jet Ski certified.

There are about 190 members on the Beach Patrol, which includes about 13 EMTs. Ocean City Beach Patrol Director Allan Karas said the goal is for 35 lifeguards to be trained and certified to operate the Jet Skis.

The Beach Patrol utilizes a Rapid Response Team for afterhours saves. Karas, a retired agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency who hired by Ocean City in 2021 to oversee the Beach Patrol. He was an Atlantic City lifeguard when he was growing up.

As Karas watched lifeguards training on Jet Skis he said, “Jet Skis are integral to our lifesaving system here in Ocean City. We brought an outside company in to certify our guards. We are trying to get 35 Jet Ski operators certified with training.”

“We are also going to try to get our own instructors. This is the first time we’ve brought a company in and had this done for so many people,” Karas said. “We’ve done some certifications before, but not as extensive as what we are doing right now.”

Like the police department, the Beach Patrol is ready to welcome back tourists, Karas noted.

“We have been working hard in the offseason getting our equipment and training ready,” Karas said. “The huge crowds of tourists and residents that hit the beaches in Ocean City will be well-protected by the best trained and most professional Beach Patrol in New Jersey.”

For information about the Ocean City Police Department, Fire Department or Beach Patrol, visit the city site at

Ocean City Beach Patrol Director Allan Karas watches training.