Drones paying dividends

ALBION — Three times the Noble County Sheriff’s Department has called out its drones.

Three times the remote-controlled devices have delivered.

On Jan. 21, the department held its initial operator training with its newest technology — a remote controlled drone that allows for an aerial view over a wide area and can see in the dark.

The drone has been used to take pictures of crash and crime scenes.

But it’s biggest impact has been locating people:

• In March, a man who had fled on foot during a police chase was apprehended after hiding in a woods.

• On April 25, Noble County police used the drone to assist a neighboring county in locating a mushroom hunter who was late to return home. The drone located the man, who had died from an undisclosed medical issue.

• On April 30, a 13-year-old boy who had run away from home was found while hiding in a woods.

All three of the successful finds have taken place at night.

“This drone is exceeding my wildest expectations,” Noble County Deputy Shafter Baker said. “It is so exciting to be in this program.”

Baker and Deputy Brandon Chordas are the two main drone operators for the department.

“The fact we are three-for-three right out of the gate shows how effective they are,” Chordas said. “I’ve been surprised at how fast we’ve been able to locate the missing — or fleeing — people. Searches that normally would have taken hours, now only take minutes thanks to the drone.”

In finding the 13-year-old, it took nearly as long to set up the drone as it did to find it once the machine was aloft. According to Baker, the boy was not in the area searchers were first looking. When the drone didn’t spot anything in that particular area, Baker panned a wider area and immediately came up with a heat signature that was out of place.

That heat signature turned out to be the boy.

The infrared technology can detect up to one degree difference in temperature. A person hiding in even dense foliage, shows up a different color than his or her surroundings.

After leading officers to the suspect who was hiding in March, a second drone was purchased by the department.

The drones cost approximately $14,000 each.

“In the grand scheme of things, they aren’t that expensive to own and operate, either,” Chordas said. “I think these drones are going to be changers for law enforcement and the search and rescue community. I wouldn’t be surprised if every department had one with a few years.”

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