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Drone to be used by Marshall County Sheriff's Office for search and rescue, other tasks

A DJI Inspire drone similar to one purchased for use by the Marshall County Sheriff's Office flies through the air. File photo.

The Marshall County Sheriff's Office now has a drone at its disposal to assist with searching for missing people, photographing crime scenes and other tasks.

The agency is finalizing some of the legal paperwork that would enable it to fly the aircraft within the county but does have a DJI Inspire drone in its possession.

"We have done some demonstrations with it and are letting people know that we have it, and that we are going to be using it for search and rescue and other law enforcement needs as well," Sheriff Jason Boman said.

The drone was flown for the public in a demonstration during Newfest on Sept. 10 in Newfolden, Minn. Its battery life allows for flight times of about 20 minutes. Community reaction has been supportive of the Sheriff Office's efforts to secure and use a drone, Boman said.

"They're happy we're doing it; they're happy that we're getting into some of this newer technology," he said. "Using this for search and rescue takes the place of so many people. We can't take away from our actual ground searchers, but if we have that (drone) and we find something out in a search area, we can pinpoint it ... and then send people out that way."

Getting a drone for the agency has been a community effort as well.

The Sheriff Office's nonprofit search and rescue arm, the Marshall County Sheriff's Mounted Posse, paid for the drone. The next priority for the two entities is to pursue more grants to pay for accessories such as night vision or thermal cameras.

Special cameras can cost as much as $10,000 to $15,000, something the Sheriff's Office would need help swinging. Those cameras would be helpful to officers in search and rescues as well as other situations such as locating suspects who may be hiding.

"I think it will be a great resource for us," Boman said. "We're a small-populated county, but it seems like we have someone go missing at least twice a year."

Reports of methamphetamine manufacturing labs out in rural parts of the county also come into the Sheriff's Office, and a drone could be used to locate them, he added.

The Mounted Posse recently received a $5,000 donation from American Crystal Sugar Co. to be used toward the drone. The money is available through the company's Community Roots Program.

The Marshall County Sheriff's Office would be one of at least two regional law enforcement agencies using drones, also called unmanned aircraft systems.

One entity pioneering law enforcement use of the technology is the Northeast Region UAS Unit. The unit is headed by the Grand Forks County Sheriff's Department, with members from several area agencies including the Grand Forks Police Department and UND Police Department.

That unit has federal authorization to fly nationwide, which allows its members to respond to requests for assistance from other agencies regardless of location.

Before the Marshall County Sheriff's Office received its own drone, Marshall County was one of nearly 20 regional counties where the UAS unit had permission to fly.