The Mason County Sheriff’s Office has used a drone for many things, from documenting accident reconstruction at crash sites to searching for missing persons and suspects on the run.
MCSO obtained its first drone in 2014 when an individual donated one to the department, according to Sheriff Kim Cole.
“You re always looking for new tools to put on your tool belt as a law enforcement officer,” Cole said. “With drone technology, when it comes to documenting crime scenes and crash scenes, it allows a potential juror a bird’s-eye perspective of that scene. It really clears up the point of impact on the road, it really provides great information for our staff.”
Cole said in looking at missing persons calls it obviously saves time.
One example he gave when searching for a missing persons in Riverton this summer.
“We were able to fly the drone over the cornfields in the area, with the permission of the owners, and that saved us from having to walk, row-by-row in the corn filed,” he said. “The drone saves time and speeds up the search process.”
Cole said it’s important that people realize the MCSO does not fly drones over private property if it doesn’t have the owner’s permission or a court order.
“We are not going to go out and look for things to find wrong in peoples yard,” Cole said.
When the MCSO first got the drone in 2014, Det. Shayne Eskew was working in the department and took over the drone program.
“Eskew, who had been in the U.S. Air Force and a licensed pilot, was able to get our drone program started,” Cole said. “He knew all the ins and outs on the paperwork that we need to have filed with the FAA and the federal government.”
Cole said when Eskew retired from the MCSO they had already groomed a few other deputies to help, such as Sgt. Matt Warmeskerken, who now oversees the drone program.
Cole said when the MCSO launch the drone these days they have one person who just flies it, one who has an iPad, who can see what the drone is seeing and try to have a third person who just has eyes on the drone.
“We always have two but try to get three to be available when we do utilize the drone,” he said.
The MCSO now has two similar drones. One is a little bit smaller and uses eight batteries because the drone gets about 25 minutes on a charge.
Before the drone, accident reconstruction was done throughout Mason County by calling in the Pere Marquette Fire Department’s ladder truck to get an aerial look at the scene.
The MCSO would still use the ladder truck under certain circumstances, according to Cole.
“Primarily we will use the drone if we can,” Cole said, adding that sometimes weather and geography are prohibiting factors. “We can’t fly the drone on U.S 10 from roughly Pere Marquette Highway to Meyers Road area because of the airport. We would use the aerial truck in this circumstances.”
Cole said his crew has flown the drone in Manistee County on crash scenes and just flew it for the Ludington Department of Public Works, to view the winter fence placement on Stearns Park beach.
Cole said the DPW wanted to document where exactly the fencing is placed to better understand how to maximize its effectiveness.
Cole said the drone has been used for water emergencies, but again he said if the U.S. Coast Guard helicopter is flying, the drone needs to be out of the sky as not to interfere with their aerial search.
Cole said the drone technology has been wonderful for the MCSO.
“It helps our crash reconstruction team with aerial documentation in looking down,” he said. “It is a useful tool for the prosecutor in prosecuting some cases.”
Cole said he was able to get a second drone in his department by proving the usefulness of the technology to the Mason County Board of Commissioners.
“It is something that probably alone I would not have probably been able to afford out of my budget,” he said. “When the citizen donated that first one, that was really a spring board where I could go to the county board and show them what we have been able to utilize.
“When we were able to get the second drone the county saw the need for it. Without the first drone I do not know if we would have been able to justify the second one to the county board.”