State and County Agencies get clearance to fly drones over people

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BURLEIGH COUNTY, N.D. - The Burleigh County Sheriff's Department was the first law enforcement agency in the state to receive a waiver that allows them to fly drones over the public.

A four-year waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration gave approval to the Burleigh County Sheriff's Department to operate drones over people.

"It allows us to fly over community events so we can do crowd control, or we can fly over parks, public streets, any place where the public has access or where there are people," said Tom Schroeder, Burleigh County deputy.

With eyes in the sky, the Sheriff's Department is able to get a different perspective while searching for people.

"If we're searching for a missing person or a fleeing suspect and they're running through an area where the public is gathering, we can still fly the drone over that area, " said Schroeder.

With five drones, and four pilots, the department has the ability to lift off at any time.

"They might see them out a little more. We do have five drones, and we try to have one out in a vehicle 24-hours a day just as a tool to our patrolmen," said Schroeder.

However, the new waiver doesn't t give the Sheriff's Department the privilege to fly over homes and private land.

"As far as peoples privacy, we still have to follow the search and seizure, and respect peoples privacy and property," said Schroeder.

The drones also allow law enforcement agencies to document crime scenes, analyze crashes, and help in emergency situations.

"The biggest thing with doing this, with having the waiver, we're providing safety to the community," said Schroeder.

Sheriff Schroeder says the public can expect seeing the drones more often, but being used in the same ways.

Shortly after Burleigh County received ITS wavier, the North Dakota Highway Patrol announced it also acquired the same waiver.

They say their use of the drones will help add elements of safety to their patrol officers while assisting to crashes alongside of busy highways.

"Our hope is that we'll be able the fly the drone up, we'll be able to take pictures and all the measurements we want from the air, without having to have a trooper stand out there and be in traffic or slowing down motorists by having roadways shut down," said Adam Dvorak, North Dakota Highway Patrol.

Although NDHP does not currently own any drones, the state budgeted them $96,000 to purchase the aircraft systems​.