Across the country, police and other emergency response agencies are using unmanned aerial devices — drones — as an eye in the sky above crime scenes, fires and searches, offering the capabilities of a helicopter at a fraction of the cost.
The Schenectady County’s sheriff’s and emergency management offices will soon be joining the agencies flying surveillance drones to use in emergency situations.
The County Legislature on Tuesday authorized spending $31,372 on the purchase of two drones and related equipment. The funding will also cover training expenses for additional county personnel to become licensed drone operators. Currently, there are only four county employees who have licenses.
Schenectady County will be joining the state, Albany County and the city of Albany among area agencies and municipalities with drones available to their law enforcement personnel.
County Legislator Thomas Constantine, chairman of the county’s Public Safety & Firefighting Committee, said the drones will be used in emergency responses, fire investigations and search and rescue operations, in addition to other uses. “I see multiple areas of use for these drones,” he said last week.
The state police have had a drone unit since early 2018, and a drone was used last fall to reconstruct the limousine crash in Schoharie that killed 20 people. The county used a contracted private drone last year to monitor the downtown Schenectady Summer Night celebration, which drew an estimated 20,000 people.
“At this time it’s a state-of-the-art purchase that needs to be made for emergency management and law enforcement purposes,” Constantine said.
Most of the funding is coming from a $25,000 homeland security grant the county received in 2016, along with a new $5,000 state legislative grant, with the direct cost to the county being about $1,400. The drones are being purchased by the county Office of Emergency Management, though the Sheriff’s Office will have one of them.
Sheriff Dominic Dagostino said he hopes to have the drones operating as soon as personnel can go through the needed training to fly them, which requires getting a federal license.