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A drone can be anything from an eerie unidentified flying object to a general annoyance to something much more useful. The Mille Lacs County Sheriff’s Office is utilizing a new drone for the latter use and plans to deploy it for the good of the County.

Mille Lacs County Sheriff Don Lorge said that the drone is equipped with a camera, a loudspeaker, a spot light, and a drop system used for dropping items. Lorge said that the drone can be used for search and rescue.

If there was a person in the river or lake, the drone can carry up to 19 pounds and can drop a life jacket to the individual. It could be used for someone who went through thin ice in Mille Lacs or any other lakes, swamps or rivers as well. “We could drop it right in their hand. This would eliminate an officer going out in a current or frigid water. Sometimes officers end up drowning,” said Lorge.

Lorge added that a drone can’t be used to “just spy on people” and that most deployments would require a search warrant and that the primary mission is to protect lives or property. “There are documentation requirements when we use the drone,” noted Lorge, “that involve privacy considerations.” There is prohibited use of drones for ransoms, surveillance, or for use to harass or intimidate, he added.

The Sheriff’s Office drone retains data for up to three days which will be deleted unless it is evidence for an active investigation.

Lorge said that the drone would be useful in cases of missing persons. “The biggest use is for people searches … missing people,” said Lorge. “Mille Lacs County has a lot of woods, and people who tend to wander off, as in the case of people with Alzheimer’s, are typically not looking for help. It’s very common for them to hide from us in the woods out of fear, and the drone would help us in seeking a heat pattern.”

He explained the heat seeking function. “We can dial in the heat setting for over a 40 acre property. There are deer and other animals that the drone would detect, but we can dial it into what the human body would be to narrow it down,” said Lorge. Technically speaking, the camera system is capable of defining infrared radiation and heat as contrasting imagery and is capable of differentiating different heats to create a defined image even in darkness.

For residential search warrants or SWAT incidents, a drone would provide a bird’s eye view. This would help protect officers and residents in the house or neighboring houses to keep them safe from an ambush, Lorge explained.

Lorge said that on his wish list is a small drone which could be used in a barricaded subject situation and to fly into the residence to do a search and clear areas. “This is a low cost and effective tool,” he noted. “During the pandemic, we could drop off medication on the doorstep of someone who is under quarantine. Amazon uses them now, and I think we’re going to see a big increase in use.”

Mille Lacs County Sheriff’s Office Support Services Director Robert Cooper added that each of the pilots are trained and commercially licensed.

The drone use was approved by the county board after the March 16 public hearing. No public feedback was given.

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