HURON COUNTY (WJRT) - (04/19/17) - The Huron County Sheriff's Office now has a new tool to help in investigations - deputies recently started using a drone.
While anyone can own a drone, to use it as the sheriff's office intends, there was a lot more involved than just going to the store and buying one.
"I probably had about 40 hours into studying and taking the test," said Duane Miller, undersheriff in Huron County. "It's just like getting to fly a real manned airplane. Lot of the test questions and stuff come right from the same materials."
Miller and Sgt. Ryan Neumann went through that process and are now licensed drone pilots by the Federal Aviation Administration. Already, they've used the drone at accident scenes.
"You're standing and taking pictures at an accident scene, the sun will play games with the roadway, reflecting off the roadway and stuff like that, you can't see skid marks and stuff. When you get up above it and look down and take a picture, it takes a lot of that stuff out of there," Miller said.
Down the road, they could use it if someone is missing.
"You could have an 80 acre cornfield, which would take a lot of manpower and hours to search it for somebody. Where if you get a drone in the air, it could save somebody's life," Neumann said.
Sheriff Kelly Hanson has heard concerns about "big brother".
"I'm not going to tell you that we're not going to use that to look for marijuana or something along those lines, but using that to spy on somebody that is not our, not the intent of this," Hanson said.
There are limitations to using a drone. Just to name a few, pilots can't fly it above 400 feet or at night, and they have to be able to see the drone at all times. Plus, bad weather can ground it.
The sheriff says this is a cheaper way to do some of the work they used to do when they had a helicopter or airplane.
The owner of this drone paid around $1,300.
The last airplane was sold in 2009.
"Just the dead cost of having that airplane was $12,000 a year," Hanson said.
The drone the sheriff's office has been using is on loan to investigators, but they are hoping to get one of their own. They are currently waiting to hear back about a grant application from Homeland Security.