Helicopter Association International
2022 Salute to Excellence Awards:
Law Enforcement Award: Matt Rogers
Sergeant, Michigan State Police
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Growing up, Michigan State Police Sergeant Matt Rogers dreamt of being a state trooper like his dad. As he got older, his interests turned to his grandfather’s profession – aviation. He earned his airplane private pilot license in high school and after graduation enrolled in Western Michigan University’s aviation technology program.
Yet Rogers couldn’t shake his policework dreams. He left college and enrolled in and was accepted to the 113th Michigan State Police Recruit School in 1995. During the next 19 years, Rogers worked assignments including road patrol, narcotics, training academy, drive track, and desk sergeant. Then, in 2014, an opportunity to blend his two passions knocked.
That year Rogers was selected to join the aviation unit as the agency’s first tactical flight officer (TFO). Until this time, the Michigan State Police (MSP) operated its fleet of helicopters and airplanes with two pilots. In his new position, Rogers would help develop MSP’s TFO program from the ground up. After attending the Los Angeles Police Department TFO School, he helped establish an extensive MSP curriculum used to train all incoming TFOs.
After training TFOs, Rogers focused his attention on building the MSP UAS program. While the aviation unit had already purchased an Aeryon Skyranger, the program had yet to be created. Through the work of Rogers and his team, MSP became the country’s first police agency to receive state-wide certificate of authorization for UAS operations in uncontrolled airspace. He soon added approvals for day and night operations in controlled airspace to the authorization, including emergency exceptions into Class B airspace.
Again, he built a program from the ground up, creating a framework that would not only ensure unit and personal growth, but also create opportunities for a diverse UAS mission set. As the program achieved success, additional UAS platforms and personnel were added. The missions were expanded from crime and crash scene documentation to tactical overwatch and building searches.
“The big thing for our unit is being able to deploy the best tool for the job,” Rogers explains. “If someone calls for an aerial search, by having helicopters, airplanes, and UAS in our unit we can present the best tool for that specific mission. Having UAS in the aviation unit has been instrumental in providing that service. That isn’t something that is necessarily done in other agencies.”
Rogers meticulously developed processes and procedures for the UAS program that exceeded all FAA and legal requirements while ensuring full privacy protection of the citizens the agency served.
He also became a founding member of the National Council of Public Safety UAS and held a governor-appointed position on the State Unmanned Aircraft Systems Task Force. Along with this work, he spoke at conferences and gave demonstrations to help other agencies use UAS effectively.
“Our team’s trainings and seminars give us the chance to talk about policies and procedures, share what worked and what didn’t, and how to implement this new technology in a way that follows a person’s constitutional rights,” Rogers says. “We as law enforcement don’t want to create bad case law that could make manned aircraft police work more difficult. I’m always eager to emphasize the importance of that.”