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County sheriff purchases drone for aerial surveillance

The Hubbard County Sheriff's Office is purchasing a $13,158 drone, complete with a night-vision camera, for drug enforcement and search and rescue operations. (Photo source: DSLR Pros)

The Hubbard County Sheriff's Office will soon have a high-tech, remote-controlled tool for crime-fighting and rescue missions.

Sheriff Cory Aukes asked county commissioners to authorize the purchase of a $13,158 drone.

"This will be priceless when it comes to drug investigations, search and rescue operations, meaning locating missing kids, lost hunters, people with dementia and Alzheimer's, drowning victims," he said at Tuesday's county board meeting.

To demonstrate its picture clarity and bird's eye view, Aukes shared video footage of law enforcement using a DJI Inspire 1 drone to find a lost hunter.

"How far away can you operate this?" asked Vice Chair Cal Johannsen.

"A couple miles," Aukes replied.

Johannsen noted that cheaper drones are available.

The difference, said Aukes, is that this drone includes FLIR thermal imaging, infrared capabilities — an $8,400 feature.

Aukes played a second video with actual footage from the Anoka County Sheriff's Office using the same drone to apprehend a domestic assault suspect at night. The drone operator guides two officers and a K-9 to the suspect, who attempted to hide under leaves in a wooded area.

"It's pretty impressive stuff," Johannsen said.

"More and more departments are using them. They really are," Aukes said.

"Can you hear the drone?" asked County Commissioner Char Christensen.

"It makes noise, but if you are far enough away, the noise gets drowned out," Aukes.

No taxpayer dollars will be necessary to pay the drone, he added. Per Minnesota Statute, the Hubbard County District Court Judge can release $12,000 from the sheriff's contingency fund for drug enforcement. The special contingency funds are generated by local fines.

The remaining balance will be paid from the forfeited property fund.

"Again, no taxpayer dollar spent on this," Aukes said.

Johannsen inquired whether special training was needed.

"They are very easy to use. They're very simple to fly," said Aukes.

The drone will be used to fly over marijuana-growing operations. In the past, Aukes said he must request a helicopter.

"The bad guys are going to pay for it themselves," commented County Coordinator Deb Thompson.

The county board approved the low quote of $13,158 from DSLR Pros of Canoga Park, Calif.

In related business, the county board did the following:

• Accepted a state Snowmobile Safety Enforcement Grant in the amount of $13,760, "which is up from the previous two years just a few hundred dollars," Aukes said. "This is the grant we get for the additional enforcement on the trails during the snowmobile season. We can use that for overtime or equipment." The sheriff's office will receive $6,880 annually in fiscal years 2018 and 2019.

• Renewed a three-year contract with the City of Nevis for deputy services. The purchase amount will remain the same for 2018 ($77,481), then see a 3 percent increase in 2019 ($79,806) and another 3 percent in 2020 ($82,200). "They pay us monthly," Aukes said.

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