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Vermont State Police get 11 drones for accident mapping, rescues and surveillance

  • Vermont State Police Trooper Tom Howard demonstrates one of the department’s new drones at the New Haven barracks on Wednesday. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger VtDigger photographs — GLENN RUSSELL

  • The Vermont State Police demonstrate some of their new drones at the New Haven barracks. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

  • Sgt. Matthew Sweitzer of the Vermont State Police prepares one of their new drones for a demonstration at the New Haven barracks Wednesday. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger GLENN RUSSELL

Published: 10/31/2019 9:55:51 PM
Modified: 10/31/2019 9:55:38 PM

After completing a lengthy review process and clinching enough funding, the Vermont State Police have a new fleet of drones that it has begun deploying for missions across the state.

At a press conference Wednesday, Lt. Cory Lozier explained that the 11 new drones will be used primarily for mapping car crash scenes, and search and rescue missions. However, they could also be used for criminal surveillance when the appropriate warrants are obtained.

The program was deployed Oct. 11, Lozier said. Since then, the drones have been used a handful of times to map out crime scenes and car crashes. The drones are able to give police a helpful, and literal, bird’s-eye view that can cut down the time it takes to survey a scene. It helps police, Lozier said, but it’ll also help Vermonters — car crash scenes will get cleaned up much faster now that it takes 30-40 minutes to map a scene with a drone. Before, the process usually took hours.

“It was a no-brainer,” Lozier said. “We’re very fortunate to have the program.”

Through federal grants, the state police purchased the 11 new drones for a total of $105,000. However, that price tag does not include continued upkeep and pilot training

State police are not the first law enforcement agency in Vermont to own and use drones, but the department will share its fleet with other departments. It has three large drones, which cost $20,000 to $30,000, and eight smaller drones for about $2,000 each, Capt. Michael Manley said.

Vermont has been debating for years about how it should regulate the use of drones by law enforcement in the state, which is part of the reason the fleet took so long to establish, Lozier said. Privacy concerns led legislative discussions, and since then state laws have been enacted determining how police can use drone footage.

The Vermont State Police also created their own drone policy regulating how the drones can be used. Both the small and large drones can take video and still images, also in infrared heat detection. These videos and images can be stored by police for only 180 days, unless they’re being used in a criminal investigation, and surveillance footage has to be approved by a warrant within 48 hours of it being taken. The policy also dictates that the drones cannot be employed with weapons, listening software or facial recognition technology.

“We are very aware of the privacy issues,” Lozier said. “We will not fly over somebody unless there’s a public safety risk and we’re trying to save lives. We know what we can or can’t do with them. And we’ll abide by that.”

Since the program got up and running, Lozier said, he’s gotten calls every day from other state police requesting their use. He said if the demand for this drone technology is as high as it is now, he expects the fleet to grow soon.

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