New camera system aims to help fight crime from the air in Oakland County

The latest crime-fighting tool

OAKLAND COUNTY, Mich. – A new camera system is helping the Oakland County Sheriff's Office track down criminals.

Local 4 Defender Karen Drew went up with deputies William Christenson and Phil Heckmann to see how it works.

They're pilots for the Sheriff's Office and their office is the helicopter. They fight crime from up in the sky.

"We see a lot of breaking and entering," Heckmann said. "We assist in that 'cause it gives you a different perspective in the air. You know, we can get there quicker."

Their latest crime-fighting tool is a high-tech camera system that shows color and infrared.

"If you have got kids that play Playstation or Xbox, you'll notice that the controller is very similar to it," Christenson said.

The camera system has a zoom function that pilots can use to track criminal activity. Once an address is entered, the camera zeroes in on the address, even if the helicopter is miles away or in a different city.

"Our most common call for service is looking for somebody, whether that somebody is a fleeing suspect, a missing Alzheimer's (disease) patient, a missing dementia patient," Christenson said.

If the deputies are assisting in a car chase, they put the focus on a moving car and hit a track button, which makes the camera follow the car. That makes it possible for the pilots to give officers on the ground real-time updates on where a suspect vehicle is.

During the flight with Drew, officers received a call about a possible break-in at an empty school in Pontiac. Within minutes, they were at the scene.

From the air, deputies checked the roof so officers didn't have to search that area.

Later that day, the helicopter responded to a search for a murder suspect in Troy. That suspect was found on a golf course.

Eventually, the new camera system will be able to send officers on the ground real-time video of a crime scene.

"Imagine yourself out on the scene. You're not sure what's behind the house and you don't want to go walk back there." Christenson said. "The officer will be able to look at what we're looking at in real time and go 'OK, it's safe to go back there.'"

The Oakland County Sheriff's Department has two helicopters flying 10 to 20 hours a week, on average.

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