- Associated Press - Monday, September 21, 2015

WEST SALEM, Wis. (AP) - The West Salem Police Department is one of a handful of law enforcement agencies in Wisconsin using a drone.

It’s technology that can save lives, providing aerial views of search-and-rescue missions, fires, traffic crashes or disasters, said West Salem Police Chief Charles Ashbeck said.

“It puts eyes on locations before you risk personnel,” said Brian Landers, criminal justice chairman at Madison Area Technical College.

Tactical teams also can use drones to view buildings before searches, and Landers stressed that state law prohibits police from using the technology on private property without a warrant.

“It’s extremely important the public knows it can trust us,” Ashbeck told the La Crosse Tribune (https://bit.ly/1OAd2y5). “This is not for violating Fourth Amendment rights or for spying.”

The drone’s first official flight was Aug. 21, when it hovered over a neighborhood in South La Crosse to map a two-block crime scene after the fatal shooting of a teen.

“That’s the beauty of cooperation,” Ashbeck said.

Powered by a battery and four propellers, the drone is equipped with 16 global-positioning system receivers and has the ability to stabilize itself in flight to produce high-resolution images and video from a camera that can rotate 360 degrees and 125 degrees toward the ground and sky.

“The technology that is built in is phenomenal,” Ashbeck said.

The 17-inch wide drone weighs just five pounds, reaches speeds of 49 mph and can fly up to 400 feet by federal aviation standards and more than a mile away from its operator. Sonar equipment deploys its legs for a soft landing on any terrain.

Ashbeck, who has his pilot’s license, operates the drone using two joysticks on a control pad, snapping pictures and video with the push of a button. He watches a live feed from the drone on an iPad, which also displays its speed and altitude.

The control pad can plug into video monitors so incident commanders can watch events unfold in real time, and the drone is equipped with a home button to return it to the flight’s starting point if equipment malfunctions or the battery drains.

The chief bought the drone and equipment earlier this year for about $5,000, which was donated by an anonymous West Salem resident.

“The donor said to buy something we would never be able to afford,” Ashbeck said.

Landers, who developed a training course for police using drones, expects their use to expand to fire departments, paramedics and engineers studying traffic patterns.

“They have so many uses to make government more effective and efficient,” he said.

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Information from: La Crosse Tribune, https://www.lacrossetribune.com

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