by Linda Mumma

SAN JOAQUIN COUNTY (CBS13) — They haven’t had them for very long, but they’re already making a difference in the community: drones deployed by deputies to save lives.

We’ve seen them chase down suspects and survey disaster sites without putting first responders in harm’s way.

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“It’s amazing what we can do with these drones,” said San Joaquin Sheriff Spokesperson Andrea Lopez.

In San Joaquin County, more and more drones are helping deputies get people in trouble to safety.

That’s exactly what they did this weekend when deputies deployed a drone not once, but twice. The first time was to find two women lost near Ripon.

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“The two ladies started floating down the Stanislaus River at Caswell Park and they actually felt lost so they went to shore, called 911 and our drone actually located them,” said Lopez.

It’s a situation Jay Aboudi, the campground host at Caswell Memorial State Park, said happens quite often.

“Once people miss the last turnout for the park, it’s hard to get back out of the water and you end up somewhere miles down the river,” Aboudi said.

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The second time deputies launched their extra “eye in the sky” was to find a man threatening to hurt himself.

“He actually ran into the orchard and we lifted our drone up and our drone spotted him,” said Lopez.

Lopez said the use of the drones allowed deputies to find the man before he could harm himself or anyone else.

“And we were able to get him the mental help that he needs,” Lopez said.

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The valuable new tool is helping deputies cover a large area in a short amount of time.

“If they’re stretched thin than I think the drones will be a time saver and life saver,” said Aboudi.

The San Joaquin County Sheriff’s office said it now has eight drones at its disposal. Since first launching the drone program in December, Lopez said deputies have flown them about 20 times.

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She said they’re mostly used to locate outstanding suspects, serve search warrants and help in locating missing persons.