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Team tests drone's role in investigations

Professor Chris Johnson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison discusses the drone's capabilities at the November law enforcement training. Photo courtesy of Wisconsin DNR.

A team of Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources conservation officers, state patrol and students from the University of Wisconsin in Madison set out to learn what eyes in the sky can add to an investigation during a daylong training at the DNR MacKenzie Center.

While most techniques are rooted in footwork, it was an opportunity to see what a different perspective might add to the information during an investigation.

Enter the drone — an increasingly popular device that is the subject of a waiting-list UW-Madison class taught by Professor Chris Johnson, who came to the day training with three of his students — to put the drone's capabilities to the test for officers on the ground.

The Wisconsin State Patrol arrived with what they call a Total Station, which can map a crime scene collecting data points. That was what the drone was going to do above while the wardens collect data points walking the scene.

Johnson says drones are airborne image collectors considered friendly to tight budgets and law enforcement officers responding to incidents on expansive or unsafe hard-to-access locations.

"Literally, it is just a flying camera," Johnson told the wardens and patrol officers before heading outside to test the drones. "They (drones) are relatively inexpensive and no need for local Wi-Fi."

The University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Engineering professor collaborated with a Bureau of Law Enforcement Safety Section for a hunting incident training day in preparation for 9-day gun-deer season.

"The drones can give us a bird's eye view perspective of an accident scene — and help us map a scene that may cover a big area," said Lt. Adam Hanna of Recreational Safety and Outdoor Skills Section.

While the wardens, recreational safety wardens and a DNR investigative warden traversed the large area by foot, collecting evidence, the drone buzzed overhead at varying heights gathering data. And, the Wisconsin State Patrol officers from the traffic reconstruction unit walked the scene collecting data points with their Total Station.

"Drones are a thing of the future. People are going to expect us to have that kind of technology." Hanna said during a television interview

Haas is public information officer with the Department of Natural Resources Bureau of Law Enforcement.