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Drones a new tool for sheriff’s office

Clarissa Kell | Daily Press Sgt. Kurt Wilson of the Delta County Sheriff’s Office pilots a drone outside the Delta County Sheriff’s Office in Escanaba. Wilson is one of three deputies licensed to operate the drones owned by the sheriff’s office. The department has a total of three drones, which are used in various situations including traffic crash investigations and search and rescue.

ESCANABA — Technology is continuously evolving and law enforcement agencies are evolving with it. In the United States, drones are increasingly used by law enforcement and security agencies.

As of this year, the Delta County Sheriff’s Office is equipped with three drones used to improve deputies’ safety and investigations in various situations.

A drone or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is an aircraft without a human pilot on board and a type of unmanned vehicle that can be remote controlled by a ground-based operator. UAVs are used to provide an aerial view with its camera. UAVs have the capabilities to take aerial photos and videos.

The Delta County Sheriff’s Office’s three drones are DJI Mavic 2 Pro models and three deputies are licensed to operate them.

Sgt. Kurt Wilson, one of the deputies at the sheriff’s office licensed to operate a drone, said each drone operator deputy has their drones in their vehicle with them at all times.

He said to use the drones, deputies have to be licensed through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

He explained deputies were trained on the rules and regulations and then took a pilot test.

“We’re kind of classified as pilots, but it’s the FAA 107 license,” Wilson said. “So, anyone who operates one commercially or for the government has to have that license.”

The department’s three deputies licensed to operate a drone are Wilson, Jamie McDonough and Mike Groleau.

The drones are equipped with three batteries each and one battery allows for around 37 minutes of flying.

Wilson said having three batteries and the ability to charge the batteries in the patrol vehicles allow for longer fly-time at a scene because batteries can be continuously swapped out and recharged.

The drones have a 20 megapixel camera and can shoot video up to 4k resolution.

According to WIlson, the drones do not have zoom, thermal imagery or night vision.

Drones can be utilized in situations where deputies can’t go or shouldn’t go due to danger.

Sheriff Ed Oswald said he purchased the drones through equipment funding as the drones were viewed as a necessity for the safety of his deputies.

An example of a hazardous situation would be if a traffic crash involves material that could explode.

Wilson said the drone could be sent out to make sure the area was safe without endangering the lives of first responders.

Right now, the drones are mainly being used for traffic crash investigations by providing aerial photos and video coverage of the scene.

Oswald added the first time a drone was used was for documenting the train and truck crash on Danforth Road that occurred in May.

With winter coming, Wilson said the drones will be utilized to inspect ice conditions. He said the drones will be extremely useful in ice rescues because they can assess the conditions of ice before sending a deputy out.

Other uses for the drones include search and rescue, search warrants, stolen vehicle investigations, and if there were ever a situation of a gunman on a rooftop.

Recently, the sheriff’s office assisted the Escanaba Public Safety Department by using the drones near school buildings before and after school to assess traffic conditions.

Wilson explained although normally schools are “no-fly zones,” the department was provided permission to operate there.

Deputies can also view their flying records while their phone is connected to the remote of the drone.

Wilson explained they are able to see exactly where they took photos and review how they flew the drone.

According to Wilson, the department is still learning the capabilities of the drones and finding new ways to help officers help the public.

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