MPD reports success of recently launched drone team

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The Madison Police Department recently detailed the success of its new drone team after effectively tightening the search area for a missing Madison nursing home patient through Unmanned Aircraft System technology.

UAS, more commonly known as drones, is a recent addition to the MPD, with June 1 marking the launch of the 11-person squad. By surveying land from an aerial position, Lieutenant Mike Hanson, team commander and estimated officers were able to reduce a search that would have taken hours on foot, to a 20-minute operation.

“We want to assist as often as we can as one more tool in the field for officers and supervisors to use,” Hanson said. “Either with documenting crime scenes, assisting with lost children, missing adults and criminals who are fleeing from us.”

MPD is also allowed to use UAS for surveying large crowd situations like the Mifflin Street Block Party and Freakfest for public safety, Hanson said.

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According to Hanson, the drone unit was called in more than 20 times in the second half of 2017. After arriving on the scene, it takes only three to four minutes for team members to get the UAS airborne and operational.

Officer Mike Love, who amassed 7,000 hours of aircraft piloting time over the past 40 years, went through the police academy at the age of 57 and later applied to join the newly forming drone team.

“I have been flying for a long time,” Love said. “This is an excellent use of that because I understand air space, and everything else that you need to when you’re operating the drone.”

Though the ACLU has voiced concerns regarding UAS’ potential to invade privacy rights, the drone team follows strict MPD guidelines that comply with FAA and the Department of Homeland Security regulations. Because of this, Hanson said he has not received a single complaint, which he believes is due to the department’s training and ethics.

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Going forward, MPD wishes to continue using this technology to more efficiently aid in various missions and crime scene investigations.

“It’s a great tool,” Love said. “I think we’re going to be able to use it to serve the residents of Madison and to really offer an opportunity to get help to people that are in need of it.”