With an area of 607 square miles, Hillsdale County, MI is home to just under 46,000 people. The county is comprised of four cities and eighteen townships. While each area has their own small police departments, the entire county is overseen by the Hillsdale County Sheriff’s Department. Earlier this month, Sheriff Tim Parker announced that the department was able to purchase a new drone to assist deputies. The purchase was made possible by a generous donation from the 2020 Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG). This grant was established in honor of Officer Edward R. Byrne of the NYPD who was killed while sitting in his patrol car on February 26, 1988 while guarding a witness set to testify against a drug dealer. Officer Byrne was only 22 years old.
For nearly 20 years, departments like the Hillsdale County Sheriff’s Department have been receiving funding in Officer Byrne’s honor to improve the justice system and prevent and control crime. That is exactly what Sheriff Parker intends to do with the drone his department purchased with this grant. Now, Hillsdale County will be joining the ever growing list of police and emergency units across the United States of America benefiting from drone technology. For now the department has one drone at their disposal, a DJI Matrice 210. As described on DJI’s website, these drones are perfectly situated for police work. “High-performance motors paired with 17-inch propellers ensure stable flight in strong winds. The new dual-battery power system automatically heats batteries when flying in sub-zero temperatures, while an enclosed design ensures weather and water resistance, so you can fly in a wide range of environments. The M200 Series drones fold down in a snap and unfold just as quickly. Gimbal mounting plates and aircraft arms stay mounted during transportation so that you’re ready to fly within minutes.”
The drone package Hillsdale County now has comes with a standard mapping camera and a 30X optical zoom camera. The FPV (First Person View) cameras can be mounted from a single downward or upward position, or even a dual downward position. The cameras can gather a wide range of data with a live stream, protected feed to the operating deputy. The standard mapping camera is the option that will be most used by the Sheriff’s Department. “The sUAS program will be primarily used for mapping crime scene and traffic crashes,” Sheriff Parker said, “allowing officers to conduct more thorough investigation yet cutting down on deputies on scene and road closure times.” But, with the 30X zoom option officers will be able to use the drone to accurately scope out a scene from miles away.
Additionally, Sheriff Parker said the department also will be using a thermal imaging camera with the drone. For any police or emergency work, a thermal imaging camera is a critical tool to have. This camera can be used to track suspects whom have fled a crime scene and are in hiding. It can be used to determine if there is a victim trapped in a dangerous situation. The camera can also be used to help search for missing persons, something that has proven to be very successful in recent times. All these tools combined, along with the dedicated offices and deputies can help protect communities greatly.
So far Sheriff Parker said that he has four staff members that have been trained to operate the drone under the guidelines of the FAA. With four trained drone operators, the Sheriff’s Department will always have someone on hand to utilize the drone should the need arise. The drone will not only be used for Sheriff Department resources though. Sheriff Parker plans on making the drone, and it’s trained operators, available to the county’s other emergency services like the local police and fire departments. A press release following Sheriff Parker’s announcement stated, “The addition of the sUAS program is another example of Sheriff Parker’s and the Hillsdale County Sheriff’s Office commitment to dedication in providing the best equipment and investigations possible to the residents of Hillsdale County. We now join numerous other agencies across the nation utilizing advanced technology to serve our community.”