The Madison Police Department is taking to the skies, with two drones that cost the department $17,000.
MPD has already used those drones, which they call Air 1 and Air 2, to search for missing dementia patients and wanted suspects — as well as to document crime scenes — since the program went live on June 1st. They publicly unveiled the drones Monday.
Lt. Mike Hanson heads the team, which currently has seven officers. He says in the incidents where they have used a drone so far, it hasn’t actually found anyone. But it has sped up their process.
“It’s definitely an efficiency tool,” Hanson says.
The drones reach heights of thousands of feet, but Hanson says in most scenarios they won’t be topping much more than 400.
That partially has to do with Federal Aviation Administration guidelines. Although police departments can get exemptions on certain FAA rules for public safety reasons, Hanson says they’re taking it slow and still contacting them most times they deploy the drones.
“We’re taking this in baby steps, we don’t want to push any envelopes too far,” Hanson says.
From any altitude though, the operator’s able to get a clear picture of what’s going on below — in real time.
Hanson also says the drone can fly in high winds, which could come in handy during search and rescue missions because of severe weather.
“The camera capabilities on this equipment are phenomenal,” Hanson says. “We could zoom in from a very high situation and the suspect wouldn’t know that we’re there.”
The camera can also use infrared to take video in the dark, which Hanson says is crucial for late-night investigations and searches.
Drones have come under fire in recent years from critics who say they’re capable of violating people’s privacy rights.
Hanson says Madison residents don’t need to worry about their drones infringing on privacy though. He says they plan to use the drones mostly to search for missing or wanted individuals.
“We want it to succeed, we want the public support for this program and we want it to be around for decades to come until the next technology,” Hanson says.
Watch the drone in action: