Davison Index

Township approves purchase of a drone for police department

FLUSHING TWP. — Flushing Township police will soon have an extra “eye in the sky” to help make arrests and locate missing people.

At its Jan. 12 meeting, the Flushing Township Board of Trustees approved the purchase of a drone from Unmanned Vehicle Technologies (UVT) for around $16,000 plus the cost of training. Township police will be using an M-30 T model, which is a lightweight, portable drone equipped with an infrared system, multiple high-resolution cameras and the capability to take pictures and videos.

Drone technology has already proven valuable for Flushing Township police. At the end of October, officers were searching for an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s who had wandered away from her home. To help narrow the search, township police called in the Clio Police Department, which deployed its drone to comb the area for the missing woman.

Flushing Township Police Chief Dennie VanAlstine said the drone located the woman within a minute and a half of being launched, thanks to its advanced thermal imaging system.

“You can pick up things with the thermal camera that you’re not going to see with the naked eye, which saves a lot of manpower and hours,” he said.

Supervisor Fred Thorsby said the township will be more than happy to add the drone as a tool for completing search and rescues.

“Typically, if you’re searching with a K-9 unit for a missing child or person, you don’t want the police traipsing around and messing up the track,” he said. “You can fly the drone out there and you’re not going to affect the dog or interfere with the tracks or scent.”

VanAlstine said having a drone will also give his department a tactical edge when attempting to apprehend suspects, particularly at night or in a rural area.

“If someone commits an armed robbery and runs into a wooded area, we can pop the drone up and find them, which makes it safer for the officers when we go to arrest the subject,” he said.

In addition to law enforcement uses, Thorsby said the township may consider using the drone for some code enforcement situations involve search warrants. However, Thorsby and township board members said they will have to develop a strict policy for drone usage to ensure privacy concerns and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) standards are met.

“We have to make sure we’re not preemptively spying on residents with the drone, so we should have guidelines in place before that thing ever touches the sky,” said Trustee Bill Bain. “One thing we could have is a log-in sheet to show us when it’s been used for a warrant that was issued or something like a search and rescue.”

Before using the drone on duty, Flushing Township officers will have to receive training and a drone operator’s license through the FAA. VanAlstine said four officers—two on the day shift and two on the night shift—have been selected for the training.

The drone itself will come with a one-year warranty that can be re-upped annually through UVT.