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Wega buys drone

Police, fire departments to use device

By Angie Landsverk

Weyauwega’s police and fire departments joined efforts this summer to purchase a drone they can both use.

“We talked to the fire department and thought we could partner with it, because they (drones) are pricey, so we pretty much matched funds,” said Sgt. Brandon Leschke.

The cost of the equipment totaled just over $10,000.

“The police department purchased the drone and equipment and the zoom camera,” he said. “Fire department members chose to designate fundraiser funds to fund the purchase of the FLIR (thermal imaging) camera.”

The police department used donated funds and a $1,000 grant from Archer Daniels Midland Company, in Stevens Point, to cover its $5,057 cost, said Leschke, who is also an assistant fire chief with Weyauwega’s fire department.

The fire department used $4,975 of its fundraiser funds to pay for the thermal imaging camera.

At least a year ago Leschke and Police Chief Gerald Poltrock started researching the idea.

Both of them have drones at home for fun.

“We started to think about what a valuable tool that would be for law enforcement and firefighting,” Poltrock said.

During their research, they focused on how a drone could be a resource for monitoring accident scenes, managing wildland fires and for water rescues.

The two of them were already looking into it when Jeremy Drexler, of NSA Aerial, in Baraboo, presented information about drones to Waupaca County’s association of fire chiefs.

Late last spring, Drexler visited Weyauwega and showed them a drone model and what he thought it could do for the departments.

The DJI Inspire Drone that the police and fire departments bought arrived on July 10.

It is available for use by other law enforcement agencies in Waupaca County, and it did not take long before Weyauwega’s police department received a request to use it.

That happened after a meeting of the county’s police chiefs.

The chiefs meet monthly, and the July meeting took place in Weyauwega.

“In that meeting, we presented (the drone) as a tool, like a mutual aid. So far, we are the only law enforcement in the county with one,” Leschke said.

After the meeting, Weyauwega’s police department received the request to use it.

“We flew and recorded one search warrant for the Waupaca County SWAT Team in the city of Waupaca,” Poltrock said.

The air space above an individual’s property – for law enforcement purposes – is considered private property, Leschke explained.

“So, we can’t just fly above without a search warrant,” he said.

That means for law enforcement purposes, the majority of time, the department is going to be acting within the scope of a search warrant when it uses the drone, Leschke said.

The remote-controlled drone connects wirelessly to GPS, Poltrock said.

“We can put it up in the air and set the waypoints for how far we want it,” he said.

Leschke said it will give the department an overall view of scenes.

“It’s a better tool for us to document,” he said. “It’s another tool in law enforcement’s pockets to document our actions.”

If there is a multi-vehicle accident, the drone may also be used to do air photo documentation to assist with the reconstruction of an accident scene, Leschke said.

Poltrock once worked for the sheriff’s department boat patrol and said it would have been a great thing to have then.

Now it will be available for such uses.

Leschke said the biggest advantage of having the drone is for officer and firefighter safety.

They can use the drone to take an initial look at a scene, such as during a wildland fire.

The drone’s thermal imaging camera could be used to determine the hotspots, so the fire department knows where to send the firefighters, he said.

The drone could also be used to search for missing persons, including elderly people with dementia.

“If an agency in the county has a problem, issue, they can call us,” Leschke said.

Poltrock said the drone may also be used for water tower inspections and to film community events.

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