NICEVILLE — Northwest Florida State College Police announced the launch of a drone unit.

NWFSC is now one of only four colleges in the nation with an active law enforcement drone team, according to a study from Bard College’s Center. The same study found there are only 38 active law enforcement agencies in Florida that utilize drones.

NWF State College Police Chief Aaron Murray said the drone program was the direct result of a need he recognized in the area, according to a press release from the college. The drone unit can also offer aerial support to other local law enforcement agencies.

“We are looking for ways to save lives and create a safer environment for everyone to live, work and learn in,” Murray said. “As technologies change and become available, like drones, we try to utilize them to be better at what we do.”

NWF State College currently has four FAA certified pilots and the use of four drones. The drones, or Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), are all equipped with high-definition cameras, thermal imagers and the ability to attach chemical canisters such as pepper spray to deter suspects.

“The drones are utilized for missing persons or for assisting law enforcement with safer searches when suspects have evaded visual contact,” Murray said. “A UAS allows us to get a bird's-eye view with real-time information, helping to identify an individual’s location.”