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Schenectady Police latest to adopt drone use

Seattle-based public technology company BRINC's LEMUR 2 drone.
Seattle-based public technology company BRINC's LEMUR 2 drone.

Schenectady police are adding drones to their ranks.  

Drones have been tapped to respond to certain police calls in Schenectady. In December the city council approved a $695,000 contract with Seattle-based public technology company BRINC, adding a fleet of LEMUR 2 drones to the police department's emergency response system. The agreement includes an unlimited repair-and-replacement warranty, software, and hardware upgrades for at least three drones.

Democratic Mayor Gary McCarthy says the devices will improve police-community relations.

"It's really is just an extension of some of the technologies that we're deploying not only in public safety, but throughout city operations," said McCarthy. "BRINC is one of the leading vendors in public safety application for drones. And it's really under a new and emerging model for drones being the first responder. So the drone could help enhance a situation if you had a robbery in progress, had an active shooter situation, we have them available already for working fires or situations with the fire department."

McCarthy says drones could also be dispatched for less urgent calls, such as non-violent and quality-of-life incidents. "You could dispatch a drone to a situation, validate the circumstances, identify the address, and be able to just call people and tell them, 'Listen, we're getting complaints from your neighbors, you got to turn your music down or we're going to send a mark car there.' There's the same ability to deploy it, where we have fireworks where we've had people that unique, disconnected, but communities where people just make poor choices, largely around summer months and the Fourth of July, to use fireworks in a manner that is inappropriate, illegal and can pose not only risks for themselves, but to buildings and people in neighborhoods. The drones, again, could be deployed to supplement the police force to better identify the people, identify bad actors and hopefully create a level of deterrence," McCarthy said. 

McCarthy adds a FEMA grant of nearly $40,000 will help cover part of the cost for the first year.  

The drones offer night vision, can open doors, break glass, and create 3D maps.

Senior Privacy & Technology Strategist Daniel Schwarz with the New York Civil Liberties Union says the Schenectady Police Department has asked for the organization’s input. "The police chief had reached out to us, and we met with him once to share our concerns, especially with regards to privacy, privacy issues of those drone programs. And we also offered to review any language they can come up with. We made all recommendations. Yeah, that will report that the ACLU national issued with regard to the drone first responder program, but we haven't had any follow up meeting and we haven't seen any language yet," said Schwarz. 

Police Chief Eric Clifford did not return calls for comment.

Industry publications hail the LEMUR 2 drone as an "incredibly rugged and powerful" tool for law enforcement.

It is expected Schenectady's drones will be fully deployed in 2025.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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