Drone Program Takes Flight at Marshfield Police Department
Marshfield, WI (OnFocus) The Marshfield Police Department’s new drone has arrived and will soon be a valuable tool for officers.
Purchased through fundraising efforts, the drone can be used in a variety of situations that officers encounter, from taking aerial photographs at crash and crime scenes to assisting in searches for missing persons.
Eleven officers will be trained to use the drone along with a few administrators. “We’d like to get several trained on every shift so if the need comes up, every shift will have someone who knows how to fly it,” said Assistant Police Chief Pat Zeps.
The drone may assist officers in locating suspects during situations such as foot pursuits.
“It’s going to add to officer and community safety if we know where the suspect is and the officers are on foot, because foot pursuits can be a fairly dangerous part of our job,” said Zeps. “When an officer is running after someone and they lose sight of them, anything could happen, including an ambush — they’re just one of the more dynamic things. Once that line of sight is lost, it can be really tough.”
A drone could have been used, Zeps said, for a situation such as a hit-and-run incident on Jan. 3. During the pursuit, the fleeing vehicle crashed twice into a snowbank. A 16-year-old fled on foot and was later apprehended and cited, while an 18-year-old was arrested for a second-offense OWI.
Besides improving safety for the officers, a primary use for the drone will be locating missing or lost individuals.
“We’ve had many calls involving lost children,” Zeps said. “Fortunately for our community we’ve been lucky that none of those have turned out tragically, but you never know. We want to equip ourselves with every tool we can.”
Funding for the drone came largely through proceeds from the annual Salute a Soldier 5K event organized by the family of Army Staff Sgt. Joseph Altmann, who was killed on Christmas Day in an insurgent attack in Afghanistan. The event raised $8,500 for the department with additional $1,500 in funding raised through a grassroots effort undertaken by two local citizens.
In recognition of the family’s generous donation, the police department christened the drone Sgt. Altmann 1.
Two local drone pilots provided training to the police officers to demonstrate the capabilities of the technology and discuss FAA regulations, which govern where and when drones can be flown. The department intends to obtain licenses for several individuals from the organization in the near future.
Training covered topics such as aviation weather, search tactics, and the operation of the drone, which features thermal imaging.
“This provides the department with a great asset because the apparatus is equipped with a dual camera system, which allows them to mix the thermal imaging and the visual camera simultaneously,” said Branden Bodendorfer, a licensed drone pilot.
This capability to mesh the images allows the drone operator to better determine what exactly is giving off a heat signature.
The department will continue to conduct training for officers to develop confidence in its use during a public safety incident.
“Developing the drone program is really a process that will take several months before it is fully up and running,” said Bodendorfer, who has been a civil volunteer for the Wisconsin Drone Network since 2017 and has provided drone assistance on many public safety calls throughout the state. “I feel confident that there is a need in the community.”