The Dickinson Police Department released its Annual Report for statistics and activities for 2019, and reported the success of their remote pilot unit following its first year.

According to the report, the unit deployed their small Unmanned Aerial System (sUAS), the Mavic 2 Enterprise, 11 times to great success. Among the uses for the system were three crash reconstructions, three assistance during patrol for locating suspects who fled from police on foot, one fire assist where the drone was used to locate secondary fires through infrared systems onboard and several public relations and training events.

North Dakota officials are known for their usage of advanced technology and in being leaders in the arena of small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS). These systems have helped law enforcement by giving them eyes in as many places as possible. Now for the Dickinson Police Department, the sky is no longer the limit.

In 2019, Dickinson PD decided to expand their equipment and abilities by obtaining the Mavic 2 Enterprise, a remote pilot unit with multiple secondary and tertiary systems that aid in all manner of policing. The unit is built to withstand strong weather conditions and is equipped with thermal cameras to detect strong heat signatures in structure fires, or in locating missing or fleeing persons.

Lt. Mike Hanel shared with The Press how the department became interested in remote piloting in policing 2018.

“North Dakota in and of itself is kinda known for its pioneering drone technology,” he said. “It just offers us a different perspective, it offers just a different way of documenting incidents. We saw this as an opportunity to expand our abilities, protect and serve our community.”

The Mavic required several hours of training based on different scenarios and the department allocated training time to various “pilots” to learn how to control the vehicle and operate its various systems. Hanel mentioned that the team was most proud that they were able to locate a suicidal juvenile who left his home and were it not for the assistance of the drone may not have been located safely to receive the help they needed.

“I would say that’s probably the biggest success story that we’ve had for the unit to date,” Hanel said.

The sUAS was able to be paid for with the help of a grant received courtesy of the BNSF Railway foundation.

Hanel said that he was satisfied with their performance to date, the unit and are training more officers to become pilots of the system. However, they are also looking at the potential of obtaining a more advanced sUAS which would further expand the capabilities of the department, though did not mention any plans or dates to acquire another platform.

“We’ve learned shortly into this that the thermal package of the current enterprise that we have is somewhat limited in its capability, we have to be pretty close,” he said. “If it’s a wide area search for a missing child or a vulnerable missing adult, it’s a little bit harder to detect at higher altitudes and higher altitudes would allow us to do a wider search area … As of right now, the platform that we have has been serving us very well.”

Hanel mentioned that the department has partnered with the educational systems in Dickinson to promote the drone and get the youth interested in potentially one day being able to continue to rising success of drone usage in Dickinson.