Schenectady, New York Launches One of the Nation’s Largest Police Drone Programs

New York City isn’t the only locale in the Empire State that is turning to unmanned aerial vehicles to enhance its law enforcement operations.  A hundred and seventy miles north, in the small town of Schenectady, NY (pop. 67,000), the local police department has just won approval from the town council to launch one of the largest police drone programs in the country.

Schenectady’s six-year program, which will cost the city roughly $700,000, will fund a fleet of BRINC Lemur 2 drones to assist the SPD in a wide range of missions, from crime/accident scene analysis to search-and-rescue operations and rapid pursuit of fleeing criminal suspects.  In the program’s first year, the SPD plans to focus on support to SWAT and other tactical response missions that may require forced entry of barricaded buildings and active negotiations with hostage takers.

BRINC Lemur 2 drones are specially equipped to carry out sensitive tactical missions under all conditions, day and night.  The drones have the ability to break glass and breach locked doors and can fly indoors through narrow hallways to arrive at a hostage scene, largely undetected.  The drones come equipped with a bevy of high-resolution zoom and thermal imaging cameras to conduct surveillance and to film a hostage incident in real time.  They also include obstacle-detection technology that allows them to avoid walls, doors and debris that might interrupt their flights.

In addition, a two-way communications console allows the remote pilot or incident commander to communicate with barricaded suspects to try to convince them to surrender. If need be, the drones can also drop flash bombs and tear gas in an effort to flush the hostage takers out.

“The first year, we’re going to have tactical drones… and those will be used in tactical situations like a barricaded subject call,” SPD detective sergeant Bradley Carlton told a local CBS affiliate in December.  “Our special operations squad can use them to go indoors. They can break glass (and) they have two-way cellular communication, so we can speak with someone or we can carry a cellphone into a [barricaded] building if the situation requires.”

In year two and beyond, the SPD plans to implement a “Drone as First Responder” (DFR) program like the ones currently in place in about two dozen other police departments nationwide. DFR allows a police department to dispatch a drone within seconds to an incoming 911 call in order to size up a potential crime scenario while field officers are still en route.  The hovering drone provides the officers with the situational intelligence they need to tailor their force structure and police tactics accordingly, limiting a waste of police resources as well as the risk of violence and casualties to suspects and officers alike.

DFR has been shown to save time, money and lives, and has been hailed as a “force multiplier” by the other departments that have deployed the program to date.

Contracting with Seattle-based BRINC was a natural for the SPD.  The company specializes in support to law enforcement, especially during police emergencies where large numbers of civilian lives may be at stake.  Its founder Blake Resnick set up the company in the wake of the infamous 2017 Las Vegas hotel plaza massacre that resulted in over 500 civilian casualties and left police departments nationwide desperate for a way to both deter and rapidly respond to similar incidents in the future.

Resnick, though just a young civilian whiz kid at the time, impressed a number of law enforcement agencies with his new company’s innovative drone technology  and its tactical applications.  Dozens of state, local and county police departments — like Schenectady, alarmed by rising crime rates – have since contracted BRINC for support.

SPD officials say their new drones will start flying by late 2024 or early 2025.

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