Ben Miller: Mr. Tech designs state-of-the-art technology for law enforcement

Portrait 2011 — Volume 3: Up-and-Comers

Ben Miller, Quartermaster with the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department in his office at MCSD.

Ben Miller with the MCSO flying the Draganflyer copter. He has become something of an expert on law enforcement use of unmanned aerial systems.

The guy with the big idea at the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department couldn’t buy one a decade ago.

“Ten years ago, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and to be honest I don’t know how law enforcement came up,” said sheriff’s deputy Ben Miller. “I did three years at Mesa State, each with a different major.”

A Fruita native, Miller, 32, is now the department’s go-to guy for a technology used on regular basis by just two law enforcement agencies nationwide, including Mesa County. Once experimental, Miller’s Draganflyer X6 helicopter program in January received federal approval to operate anywhere in Mesa County, with limited restrictions.

Miller’s helicopter is leased free-of-charge by Mesa County from its Canada-based manufacturer, with costs to taxpayers consisting of the electricity needed to charge the battery, good for 15 to 20 minutes of flight time.

“If we were asking to spend a whole lot of money on this, I wouldn’t be pushing it right now,” Miller said.

At first looking to leave the Grand Valley, Miller said he suddenly found reason to stay around after working odd jobs and briefly flirting with a career with the Colorado State Patrol.

“I met a girl,” he explained.

Miller was hired by the sheriff’s department in November 2000 and worked seven years in the Mesa County Jail. Miller applied for the agency’s vacant quartermaster position, responsible for major purchases and miscellaneous projects. The birth of the Draganflyer X6 program started with a conversation Miller said he had with a colleague.

“He said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if law enforcement used that same technology as the military?’ ” Miller said. “I got to thinking there’s potential there.”

Unmanned aerial systems became a personal research project for Miller above his regular job duties.

While digging into the topic online and networking with law enforcement officials who had a similar interests, Miller didn’t get official approval to pursue the matter for the sheriff’s department until the end of 2008.

Miller today is a voting member of an aviation technology working group for the U.S. Department of Justice, doling out research dollars for projects similar to the Draganflyer X6.

“He had an interest and a vision of the use of this technology, and it’s exciting to watch him become a subject matter expert,” said Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey.

Miller’s value to the department was clear before the Draganflyer X6 program, Hilkey said.

“He has always been someone who was great to have on a critical event because he’s always there to support, provide solutions to problems,” he said.


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