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County using thermal imaging drone technology to fight crime


By KENDALL KEYS, JAMES PAXSON

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    SAGINAW COUNTY, Michigan (WNEM) — A huge presence of law enforcement that culminated with the arrest of a man suspected of a break-in was done with the help from drone technology.

“We can’t afford a helicopter, but I can get something like a helicopter,” said William Federspiel, Saginaw County sheriff.

Saginaw is taking to the air to fight crime, but not with a helicopter like it’s southerly neighbor Flint.

“We have the drone locally, we can put it up in the air fast, and we’ve got all the technology with forward looking infra-red, everything that the helicopter has, but it’s a quicker response and you won’t even know it’s up above you,” Federspiel said.

Federspiel said Thursday night the drone’s heat-seeking technology located a suspected burglar.

A Saginaw police officer first responded at Boost Mobile on Davenport Avenue after a burglary alarm went off, indicating broken glass and motion inside.

Ten minutes later, a state police trooper spotted the suspect. More officers and a K-9 joined in the pursuit, to no avail.

That is where the drone and its night vision thermal imaging technology made the difference.

“When we know where the suspect is, it’s safer for us so that then we know how to deploy so that we’re not hurt or killed in this operation,” Federspiel said.

Investigators said the drone spotted the suspect hiding under a barbecue grill cover.

“You’ll see the outline of a human body and the heat that they emanate. So, again, underneath a cold grill out in the backyard, he showed up perfect. Nice and bright like a lite bright,” Federspiel said.

Federspiel estimates the drone runs about $30,000 and was paid for by a Department of Justice grant. He is hoping to get another soon when the funding is available.

“It’s always a dangerous job, but it makes us safer, and it makes our community safer by bringing in these people. If we wouldn’t have been able to find him, he’d be on the loose tonight and we may be dealing with another robbery,” Federspiel said.

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