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“A life-saving tool:” Drone assists with arrest in Middleton; more and more agencies using them

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MIDDLETON -- When it happened, they had no idea they were the first ever to do it. Officials with a fire department in Wisconsin say they would not be surprised if agencies across the state follow in their footsteps.

Middleton Fire Department

Middleton Fire Department

The Middleton Fire Department has a lot to be proud of.  Besides being the largest volunteer-based department in the state, firefighters are equipped with some of the newest technologies on the market.

"Technology is key for us," says Aaron Harris.

But even the chief had no idea their newest tool would allow them to make history.

Middleton Fire Department drone video

Middleton Fire Department drone video

On May 31st, 2015, just blocks from the fire department, a firefighter was robbed.

"A young man, who is actually one of our junior firefighters on our department -- he`s our assistant chief`s son -- got robbed at a gas station," says Harris.

Within minutes, Middleton police spotted the suspect, and a short car chase ensued.  The suspect crashed his car and took off on foot.

"And they lost him near what they call Tiedeman's Pond," says Harris.

For more than an hour, police could not find the man.  Once fire officials heard of the search, they offered up their latest tool that had just arrived the same week -- a donated drone.

"Needless to say I was a little nervous, but had the safety of two individuals on my side.  But I was worried about crashing the thing a week into owning it," says Harris.

Within five minutes of the drone's launch, they found their man!

Middleton Fire Department drone video

Middleton Fire Department drone video

"The police are saying 'put your hands up,' and then turning to me and saying 'where is he?  He`s right under the drone,'" says Harris.

What the Middleton Fire Department did not know at the time was that they had just performed the first known drone-assisted arrest in the state of Wisconsin, and they had the video to prove it.

Middleton Fire Department drone

Middleton Fire Department drone

"That could have been a manhunt for hours on end.  Until who knows? We might have had to just give up," says Harris.

It's an arrest that may start happening more and more in Wisconsin.

Several department across the state are looking into getting a drone of their own.

Drone

Drone

In Waukesha, police recently began using one.

"As technology has advanced, we`ve seen this as something that could dramatically improve the safety of our citizens in Waueksha," says Lt. Chad Pergande.

Lt. Pergande is in charge of getting the program off the ground in Waukesha.

"I think right now we are just kind of scraping the top of what this can be used for long term," says Pergande.

Inside the Waukesha Police Department, Pergande gave FOX6 News a demonstration of how their donated drone works.  From helping find a missing person, to approaching suspicious vehicles, police believe their drone will save resources and do something even more important.

Waukesha Police Department drone

Waukesha Police Department drone

"We believe this is a life-saving tool. And we want the community to know we have it," says Pergande.

Not everyone is excited about the latest technology. Officials with the ACLU of Wisconsin says they are watching drone expansion closely.

"There is always the danger that they will be used in ways that will involve mission creep, involve weaponized drones, could lead to violation of privacy," says ACLU of Wisconson's Executive Director Chris Ahmuty.

Wisconsin law prohibits weapons on drones, and law enforcement agencies must get a search warrant to fly over places people have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Middleton Fire Department drone

Middleton Fire Department drone

ACLU officials would like to see stricter guidelines.

In Waukesha, they say they take privacy seriously.

"I think every department could benefit from having one of these," adds Pergande.

The Waukesha Police Department is in the process of creating a strict policy for drone use.

As for Middleton, the city can claim their addition of a drone as historic.

"I didn`t realize we were the first to apprehend a person in the state of Wisconsin," says Chief Harris.

Harris says he expects us to be hearing of drones assisting law enforcement a lot more in the future.

"It`s coming.  This is no pun intended, or maybe pun intended. This is just taking off," says Harris.

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