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How the FDLCO Sheriff's Office used 'game changer' thermal imaging to locate car theft suspects

Posted at 6:12 PM, Jun 12, 2024

FOND DU LAC (NBC 26) — Fond du Lac County Sheriff deputies said the use of thermal imaging from drones can be essential in investigating cases, like a car theft in Eden on Tuesday.

  • Drones with thermal imaging allow law enforcement to locate people or animals.
  • The thermal imaging helped deputies find four car theft suspects who were hiding in tall grass at night.
  • The Fond du Lac County Sheriff's Department has two of these drones.

(The following is a transcription of the full broadcast story with additions for the web.)

The sheriff’s office said people were spotted breaking into cars in Eden in the Manor Hill Manufactured Home Community.

When they arrived, deputies said several suspects ran away and hid in tall grass nearby.

Lieutenant Brennan Wagner said thermal thermal imaging from a drone was essential in finding four people in the dark.

"We could have walked right by under any other circumstance and not known that they were there… it’s a game changer," Lt. Wagner said.

Lieutenant Wagner said the sheriff’s department has two small unmanned aerial systems or SUAS.

"We try to structure our team so that we have at least one pilot on each shift," Lt. Wagner said.

He said they use the drones for many different situations.

"If we have a boat call, if we have a swat application, maybe a child that runs away, we've used them to help some citizens with lost dogs," Lt. Wagner said.

He said Tuesday morning’s cooler summer temps were ideal for the thermal imaging.

“That is one of our one of our limitations in flying in the summertime, is that at two o'clock in the afternoon, everything's hot," Lt. Wagner said.

But in the winter, Lt. Wagner said temperatures that are too low can drain the drone's battery quickly.

Lt. Wagner said each done costs between $12,000 and $15,000, and one was donated to the department by the Fond du Lac Area Foundation.

I asked neighbors in the Manor Hill Community what they thought about Tuesday’s investigation and the drones that flew above.

"I believe they're doing a good job using it for the right cause," said neighbor Marcos Reyes.

"I thought it was awesome that they captured at least four of them, especially in the middle of the night," said neighbor Robin Ostergaard.

The sheriff’s department said the four suspects in the Eden case were each arrested on several counts of theft.