By: Joanne M. Haas/DNR Bureau of Law Enforcement
When can an investigation be helped by eyes in the sky? That's what a team of DNR conservation wardens, Wisconsin State Patrol officers and a crew of University of Wisconsin-Madison students and their professor set out to learn in a daylong training at the WDNR MacKenzie Center.
Wardens and troopers regularly complete trainings into investigative techniques to put together an accident or a crime scene. But most of the training is done with techniques rooted on foot and on ground. What about a different viewpoint - a way to get a bigger aerial picture of the scene? What information would that bring and how would it fit into an investigation?
Last month, that's what a partnership day of training with a healthy dose of experimenting was to reveal with a goal of becoming more effective and efficient at removing the mysteries of a crime or accident scene. These partnership experiences help all involved learn, understand and be more efficient and effective in serving the public.
Enter the drone - an increasingly popular device that is the subject of a waiting-list UW-Madison class taught by Professor Chris Johnson, who came to the day training with three of his students to put the drone's abilities to the test with the officers on the ground.
The Wisconsin State Patrol arrived with what they call a Total Station, which can map a crime scene collecting data points. That was what the drone was going to do above while the wardens collect data points walking the scene.
Johnson says drones are airborne image collectors considered friendly to tight budgets and law enforcement officers responding to incidents on expansive or unsafe hard-to-access locations.
"Literally, it is just a flying camera," Johnson told the DNR wardens and Wisconsin State Patrol officers gathered inside before heading outside to buck the wind for the all-day training at the MacKenzie Center near Poynette. "They (drones) are relatively inexpensive and no need for local WiFi."
The University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Engineering professor collaborated with a Bureau of Law Enforcement Safety Section for a hunting incident training day with the State Patrol held in preparation for 9-day gun-deer season.
Capt. April Dombrowski, of the Recreational Safety and Outdoor Skills Section, opened the day by briefing the group and stressing the goal of the training day "is to learn about the drone capability as they worked a fatal hunting scenario."
Lt. Adam Hanna, also of Recreational Safety and Outdoor Skills Section, told a Madison television reporter on site. "The drones can give us a bird's eye view perspective of an accident scene - and help us map a scene that may cover a big area."
While the wardens - including the four recreational safety wardens Mark Little, Kyle Drake, Heather Gottschalk and Jason Roberts and DNR Investigative Warden Drew Shoeneck - traversed the large area by foot, collecting evidence, the drone buzzed overhead at varying heights gathering its data. And, the Wisconsin State Patrol officers from the Traffic Reconstruction Unit (TRU) walked the scene collecting data points with their Total Station.
At the end of the day, plans were made to meet in the coming weeks to compare how the drone and the officers' ground investigation mapping capabilities compared and how the new technology could improve results.
As Lt. Hanna said in his TV interview: "Drones are a thing of the future. People are going to expect us to have that kind of technology."
If you have information regarding natural resource violations, you may confidentially report by calling or texting: VIOLATION HOTLINE: 1-800-TIP-WDNR or 1-800-847-9367. The hotline is in operation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Trained staff relay report information to conservation wardens.