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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Schenectady City Council to Decide on Police Drone Program Expansion


SCHENECTADY — The⁤ Schenectady Police Department is set ⁢to ⁣expand its drone program in​ a bid to ⁤reduce​ response times and⁢ to bolster public and police safety.

The City ⁢Council will vote ‌Tuesday on a proposed ⁢agreement between the city and the BRINC drone company to⁣ provide the department with ​technology⁤ for a Drone ‌as ⁤a First Responder (DFR) initiative.

City police currently have drones stored in police cars ‍that do not have ⁣the same ​capabilities‌ as the DFR devices, which would be flown from a ⁤dedicated ​launch pad and piloted ⁢by city officers.

Enhancing Police Capabilities

The city would acquire two DFR units under the agreement, with police Chief Eric Clifford telling the council at its Dec. 18 Public Safety​ Committee‍ meeting that he expects the two DFR‍ devices to be ⁣operational in the‌ city by 2025 if the council approves the contract.

The city contract with the BRINC would last ‌six years with a total cost of $694,994.

Clifford said a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant​ would cover ⁢$40,000 of the cost for the⁢ first year of ‍the ‍program.

The drones can be utilized to respond to incidents such ⁣as traffic collisions, active-shooter incidents ⁢and search-and-rescue operations.

Clifford noted that he’d⁣ heard concerns from the City Council​ about ‌police response times and the ⁣drone program is expected to improve response time.

Success ⁢Stories from Other ⁤Cities

BRINC representative Don Redmond, a⁤ retired captain from ⁣the Chula Vista Police ‍Department in California, explained to the ⁢council that the Chula Vista agency has seen immediate results since implementing⁤ the DFR program in 2018.

Redmond showed‍ the Schenectady ​council a series of videos featuring real footage ‌captured by the ‌Chula Vista department’s drones, with one clip showing how a drone helped police track‌ a car that was attempting ⁤to chase a motorcycle on city streets during a domestic violence incident that turned into a road rage clash.

Redmond said video captured by the drones​ is admissible in court, similar to police body-camera footage.

Redmond⁢ explained to​ the council ⁣that, before the Chula Vista agency began‍ its⁢ drone program in‍ 2018, average response time was 20 minutes per police call ‌for priority‌ two ‌calls. The timeframe shrunk to 12 minutes by 2022.

Expected Impact on Schenectady

City Council President Marion Porterfield asked ⁤Clifford if Schenectady expects to see ⁤similarly improved response ‍times due to the drone program.

“Once it’s up and‍ running, we’re going to have that internal⁤ conversation ‍about‌ what calls we’re going to be ‍sending them to, but when fully‌ deployed, I think it’s going to ‍ [improve] ​our response time significantly,” Clifford replied.

The police chief‍ said he did not⁤ believe it will take five years for the DFR program to show results.

“We’re going⁣ to​ be⁢ able to get technology ‍above a⁤ situation and start collecting⁣ video evidence right away,” Clifford said. “That’s⁤ going to help with ⁢solving crimes, prosecuting crimes and ⁣holding people accountable.”

Support from City Council

Redmond said there are approximately⁤ eight ⁤to 10 police departments nationwide that have adopted a DFR program since Chula Vista pioneered ⁤it.

Councilman Carl Williams ⁤said last Tuesday​ that he supports the drone ​agreement, noting ​that the devices could be used ‌to help complement the⁤ police department’s existing‌ staff.

“Staffing is going to ⁢be‌ an issue just throughout our city with ‍open positions,” Williams said. “I⁤ think it’s important for us to‌ evaluate how we⁢ can ‌best utilize⁢ these resources as we become a more⁣ technologically savvy culture. We have to take into consideration privacy and those elements,‌ but I believe this company has put forth the effort to NYCLU [New York Civil Liberties Union] to address some ⁤of these ⁣concerns on the forefront. I truly⁣ believe ‌as ​we move forward to ⁣address the time of the response, then also how do we get‍ the right information to the right people at the right‌ time?”

Future of the Program

The contract offer​ expires at the end of ⁣2023. The council is set to vote on it⁤ during⁢ its meeting Tuesday.

Schenectady is⁣ receiving‌ a 52% discount from the vendor as⁣ an early‍ adopter​ of the technology that BRINC hopes to expand to departments nationwide.

“It’s something that’s necessary⁤ and ⁢will ‍help with the response times, which is one of the big issues in ⁣the city,” Councilman ⁤John Polimeni said last Tuesday. “Using this type of technology is something that the [police] chief and I have been ⁤talking about for ⁣a while, and I’m​ glad that he was⁤ able to bring that forward and it looks like the rest of the council supports‍ it as ‌well.”

Juniper Li
Juniper Li
Juniper Li, with her roots in documentary filmmaking, brings a unique narrative style to local news reporting. A graduate of NYU’s Journalism program, Ava has a keen eye for stories that capture the essence of community life. Her reporting often highlights local achievements and challenges, drawing on her experience in visual storytelling.
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  1. Agree
    Great initiative to expand the police drone program! This technology can significantly improve public safety and enhance law enforcement efforts in Schenectady.

  2. Disagree. Privacy concerns and potential misuse of power should be thoroughly considered before expanding the police drone program.


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