The Eagan Police Department (EPD) is committed to preserving our community’s well-being by providing quality service. They are always adapting to serve our community in new and innovative ways through training, tactics, and technology.

In fact, EPD has invested in training practices and equipment that help them get to you quickly and safely — and ensures the long-term health and safety of our community, our officers, and those they serve.

The police department bought its first drone over three years ago and assigned it to the SWAT team. However, it quickly became clear that drones could be useful across the department. With that realization, the drone unit was born, and has been maturing ever since.

This drone team was initially made up of six officers and was working with just one drone. The team has since grown to 10 officers and acquired three more drones, drastically expanding its capabilities.

“Drone technology we’ve been using at the Eagan Police Department has evolved dramatically since we began our program,” Patrol Sergeant Jake Peterson says. “Developments in the industry are providing excellent tools for public safety.”

Officer Autum Shurbert-Hetzel prepares the DJI M300 RTK for liftoff.
Officer Autum Shurbert-Hetzel prepares the DJI M300 RTK for liftoff.

 

Improving Safety for Officers, Community

Officer Autum Shurbert-Hetzel has been flying drones since 2021. The training process is complex, as officers must learn to fly each drone and get an FFA commercial remote pilot license. “You have to hit the books and learn about drones, airspace, flight restrictions, weather, and cloud patterns,” Shurbert-Hetzel says.

All that training pays off, though, by giving officers a new approach to many calls. Drones, she says, are a great tool for getting an overview of a scene without risking officers’ safety. Shurbert-Hetzel recalls a burglary alarm at a jewelry store earlier this year. Responding officers encountered broken glass but had many questions: How many people are involved? Are there weapons present? Is anyone else onsite?

To get answers, Shurbert-Hetzel flew a small drone into the building. “I was able to slow down the situation and get a little control of those unknowns by confirming that there were no individuals in there and getting the layout of the building,” she says.

Working Smarter

Peterson explains that drones can drastically improve police response to a search and rescue call. Eagan’s wooded areas, like Lebanon Hills and the river bottoms, pose a challenge for searchers — especially if it’s dark.

“Our drones have very good thermal cameras that allow us to quickly search large areas in minutes, and traditionally that could take multiple officers multiple hours.”

And when every minute counts, that efficiency is good news for community members and police officers alike.

“I’m really proud of our team for putting in the work and embracing new techniques, tactics, and technology to keep everyone safe and serve our community even better. Our goal is to continue to empower our officers to use strategies that help us assess and deescalate situations quickly and safely,” says Chief of Police Roger New.

Different Drones for Different Situations

Smallest drone: DJI Mini 2. Used for indoor searches. Has lights and a speaker.

Medium drones: DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Advanced and DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual. EPD has two of these. Used indoors and outdoors. Have lights, speakers, and infrared sensors.

Largest drone: DJI M300 RTK. Used outdoors and for covering large areas. Has a speaker, spotlight, longer flight times, and a high-res camera with infrared options.