Michigan State Police Get Green Light on Using Aerial Drones

Aerial drone

How did the Police purchase these aerial drones?

Are there any restrictions?

This week, the Michigan State Police Department received approval by the Federal Aviation Administration to fly unmanned aircraft systems in support of public safety. Unmanned aircraft systems are better known as drones.

The approval goes so far that the drones can be flown anywhere in the state. The Detroit Free Press reported that this approval is the first in the nation to allow “statewide authorization to fly.”

In fact, they have already completed their first mission. Last week, a drone was flown over a fire scene in Ottawa County.

The Detroit News reported that the infrared camera was used to located hotspots in the area. The identified hot spots were reported to the firefighters. The firefighters used that information to find out where the fire was still smoking.

The drone will also be used to help reduce the required time to survey and reconstruct major crash scenes. For example, a drone would have been helpful during the crash scene of the 193 car/truck pileup on I-94 between Kalamazoo and Battle Creek. Last January, after that pile up it took two days to reopen the freeway.

The Detroit News reported that Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue, commander of the Michigan State Police, stated that part of the reason why it took two days to reopen the highway was because:

“Crash investigators had to take detailed measurements and photos of the scene before they could begin clearing the wreckage of passenger vehicles and commercial trucks, The Ontario Provincial Police reported that a possible 87 percent reduction in time when drones are photographing and reconstructing crash sites.”

There Are Restrictions

Even with the green light shinning, there are a few restrictions. These restrictions are from the Federal Aviation Department. The restrictions include,

  • The pilots must be FAA certified.
  • The drone cannot fly within five miles of an airport unless permission is granted.
  • The drone must be flown by a two-person crew. One will be acting as pilot and the other as a safety observer.
  • The drone must be flown below 400 feet and in sight of the crew.
  • All safety and training requirements must be met.

The Drones’ Limitations

The drone itself has limitations including,

  • The drone can only handle light rain.
  • The drone can fly in winds of 40 mph and can only handle gusts of up to 55 mph.

What the Critics Are Saying

Former state Representative Tom McMillin told the Detroit Free Press that,

“There are legitimate uses but it’s important that we rein in big brother.”

McMillin sponsored a legislation that would regulate police use of drones. Yet, his bill was never passed.

McMillin goes on to say that there are laws on peeping toms and trespassing. There is a need for new legislation to prevent abuses by police.

Where Did the State Police Get the Drones?

Aeryon SkyRanger sold the drones for $158,000 in September of 2013. The money to buy the drones came from a gain from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Where Are the Drones?

The intent is to have drones station across the state for emergency response. The first drone will be at the Lansing airport.

What Do You Think?

How do you feel about this recent approval? Do you believe, like Tom McMillin, that there should be legalization preventing police abuse? Do you think it will have a positive impact on emergency response?

Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.