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VALPARAISO — Police said Thursday they have begun using unmanned aerial systems to assist in a variety of investigations, like locating missing persons or taking photos at crime scenes.

The department has two drones, both equipped with cameras, one with a thermal imaging device, and holds two certifications for use by the Federal Aviation Administration.

IT Officer Phil Rochon said the more advanced level of certification allows for some use at night.

Valparaiso police spokesman Sgt. Mike Grennes said drones are especially useful during missing persons investigations. The devices allow officers to see a wide area very quickly and quickly cover fields and wooded areas that are difficult to see on foot.

Rochon said the thermal imaging camera can help locate people or even some items that might be discarded by a fleeing suspect.

They can be used to take bird's-eye view photos at crime and accident scenes. They also can be used during emergencies, like floods, to monitor ongoing issues.

Three officers are FAA certified to use them, and three more officers are now in training to be certified.

The drones will be piloted by someone at the scene of the incident, Rochon said. Photos and videos captured by the cameras are considered evidence.

Rochon said state law limits how they can be used in investigations. They cannot be used to gather information in private areas without a warrant.

Rochon said less than 2 percent of law enforcement agencies nationwide have FAA certification to use the devices.

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