One law enforcement agency is getting help from above. The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office will soon be turning to drones in times of emergency. The department will be using them specifically for search and rescue missions, and officials are realizing this technology is much more than a recreational device.
“For us, it’s a tool,” Major Jeff Storms, with the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, said. Storms says five volunteers with the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office are currently training with the technology. At a limit of 400 feet in the air and only during the day, he says drones provide key differences.
“For very tight areas or for areas where the helicopter may not be able to fly it’s definitely going to give us an ability to see things much clearer,” Storms said. An Unmanned Aerial System, or drone, is gaining attention from departments all across the state, and country.
“If my drone could carry a net and I could drop it over an armed suspect that’s mentally ill and or capture that individual without confrontation of law enforcement, wouldn’t that be a good thing?,” Jim Franklin, executive director of the Minnesota Sheriff’s Association, said.
Hennepin County officials stress they’ll only use them for search and rescue missions mainly near water and open fields. Storms remembers one case where they could have used them. “Barway Collins; it would have helped with the hours and hours of ground searches that happened. We would have been able to do it much quicker,” Storms said.
But some worry this technology invades privacy. That’s why the sheriff’s office has strict guidelines with the FAA, including deleting all data not related to the investigation within 30 days. “We are doing everything the best we can to make sure that it’s very transparent,” Storms said.
Sonar changed the way searches were done underwater, and many hope drones do the same hundreds of feet above land. The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office still plans to use helicopters and private jets whenever a case warrants them. So far, the Sheriff’s Office has one drone that cost them $4,000. They’re hopeful once they get full clearance from the FAA, that they can start using them in cases by June.