(WLNS) – The Michigan State Police is the first law enforcement agency in the country to receive statewide authorization to fly a drone from the Federal Aviation Administration.
The approval process lasted about a year and a half with Michigan State Police receiving a certificate of authorization on Feb. 25.
Now their plan is off the ground and the drone is in the air.
On Wednesday pilots showed 6 News just how their unmanned aircraft system works.
They hope to use it for search and rescue missions as well as for crime scene and crash investigations.
“When a mission is going to put the pilots at risk, that might be a great time to put the UAS in flight in place of a manned aircraft,” said Lt. Patrick Lawrence, Michigan State Police.
The drone made its maiden voyage just last week when it was used for an arson investigation near Jenison, Michigan.
The Michigan State Police drone is valued at $160,000, but Lt. Patrick Lawrence says the high cost comes from added safety features.
For instance, if the battery is low, the drone will automatically come back to prevent any crashes.
Another safety rule, the drone must remain in sight of the crew as it flies.
But crews do not need a warrant during the day.
“Currently no warrants are required for a day visual search with a day camera. If there was a warrant required for the manned aircraft there would be one for the unmanned aircraft as well, and we’d follow those rules the same as we do.”
MSP has been working with the ACLU from the very beginning to make sure this drone won’t affect anyone’s privacy.
“We welcome the opportunity to work with law enforcement and encourage folks to reach out to MSP because as I’ve said, I believe that they really have done a good job in creating a responsible and constitutional policy.”
Pilots can choose to record a flight, but that footage must be deleted after a certain period of time.
Freedom of information requests can be filed to obtain the video.
Michigan State Police say other law enforcement agencies have already reached out to them for help with navigating FAA regulations.
MSP has no immediate plans to add more drones to its operation.