MSP first police agency in country approved for field drone use

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MICHIGAN -- The Federal Aviation Administration last month approved requests from the Michigan State Police to be the first agency in the country to be authorized to fly drones statewide.

MSP, under approval of the FAA, began training flights of the unmanned aircraft systems in Feb. 2014 at the agency's Lansing training academy. Authorization for field use began on Feb. 25 this year, according to Sgt. Matt Rogers, tactical flight officer with MSP's aviation section.

“We are in that phase right now where we are going to determine what this could be used for--for law enforcement purposes--and where we’re going to benefit from its use," Sgt. Rogers told FOX 17.

The state's first and only drone currently in operation was used in its first mission last week following a house fire in Georgetown Township. Rogers said the technology offered an opportunity to work with a local municipality to assist in providing aerial photography of the fire damage.

The camera on the Aeryon SkyRanger drone the state purchased through a grant is capable of capturing photo, video and infrared images. The device is controlled by a two-man team on the ground. One person pilots the drone  using the touch pad controller, while another acts as a safety observer.

MSP policy requires the drone be flown below 400 feet in "Class G" airspace and it must always be within sight of the crew.

Rogers said there is a wide possibility of uses for the drone, from aiding in search and rescues to assisting in a barricaded gunman type situation, or helping with traffic crash reconstructions.

The massive pile-up on I-94 that spanned two counties in January is a prime example of when having aerial photos would've proven immensely helpful had the state been approved then for drone use, Rogers said. "We could've flown it over to document all those vehicles and what their position is, and we can put all these pictures together into a mosaic where you can print off that entire crash scene."

“With this new technolo, there’s a lot of unknowns just yet on how all this policy is going to be written, so we’re very fortunate to be the first state agency in the country to have a statewide operations area.”

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