Drones help keep officers safe during Lake County standoff

Published: May. 4, 2017 at 5:36 PM CDT
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The man accused of shooting a deputy in Lake County Wednesday is now facing charges.

Authorities say Matthew Rumbolz opened fire on law enforcement after an early morning car chase, shooting McCook county Deputy Dylan Hillestad in the arm.

After a standoff with police, Rumbolz surrendered peacefully Wednesday afternoon. He now faces multiple charges including attempted murder.

During Wednesday’s hours-long standoff situation in Lake County, law enforcement used a special eye in the sky to keep officers on the ground safe.

“We needed to cover some more ground and get a better idea of what was going on with the situation yesterday,” Lake County Sheriff Tim Walburg said. “Law enforcement has used drones in the past, so we decided this was a good option for us to cover a lot of ground rather quickly.”

The Lincoln County emergency manager provided the first drone Wednesday morning; a second drone from a private company was also brought in Wednesday afternoon as law enforcement were closing in on the subject.

“Getting everybody in the proper position was very helpful,” Sheriff Walburg said. “This just gave us better eyes to see what he was doing and better protect our people.”

Many drones are now equipped with thermal imaging which public safety officers find useful to locate someone who is lost during search and rescue operation.

“Little kids that get lost in fields…they're very important for that too, you can cover a lot of ground very quickly with those drones,” Sheriff Walburg said.

“At the moment, the best use for drones for law enforcement is search and rescue,” Tom Simmons with Aerial Horizons Commercial Drone Systems said. “It’s something they can bring out in the field, have out in a couple minutes and now they're getting aerial imagery of whatever scene they're looking at.”

Drones are also being utilized by firefighters and other public safety officials around the state.

“Here in South Dakota, it seems that the county managers are the most interested in purchasing a drone,” Simmons said. “Then they'll buy the drones and make it available to all of the different departments, to the sheriff, to police to the fire, they all typically share the drone.”

Right now only a handful of South Dakota counties actually own their own drones, but those that do are really good about sharing their resources with law enforcement across the state.

The Lake County sheriff says drones are just another tool for law enforcement during dangerous situations; he says they also greatly benefited from the help of two North Dakota Highway Patrol tracking dogs who happened to be in Watertown for a training seminar Wednesday.