RPD drone unit prepares for take-off

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The Rome Police Department is taking to the skies with the launch of their new drone program. Five officers have received the training to take-off with the new Unmanned Aviation Unit.

“It’s the next leap in law enforcement,” described Detective Jeffrey M. Lanigan, who heads the Unit through the Detective Division. “Law enforcement is always looking for the next piece of technology to make things safer for us and the community.”

The Yuneec brand Typhoon H hexacopter drone will be used for a variety of police functions, such search and rescue operations, crime scene analysis, accident reconstruction, crowd control, police pursuits and more. It has six propellers and a 360-degree, high quality camera to record both still pictures and video.

The drone will offer the department a bird’s eye view previously unavailable to officers, with a 400-foot ceiling, as per federal regulations. It has a top speed of about 45 mph and can withstand up to 25 mph wind gusts.

“They can reach places regular, local police officers cannot,” Lanigan stated. The Unit is composed of Lanigan, Sgt. Mark A. Glasso, Sgt. Alex Sypniewski, Patrolman Daniel A. Vescio and Patrolman Shane A. Riolo.

The drone requires two operators while in flight, both a pilot on the control pad and a visual observer to keep a second set of eyes peeled for anything that might hinder the drone. The department must also alert the Federal Aviation Administration at the air traffic control tower at the Griffiss International Airport whenever they put the drone in the air.

“It’s definitely a great, useful tool,” Lanigan said. “it’s unlimited what we can do with it.”

In the past, detectives would use the satellite images from Google Maps to get an overhead view of crime scenes, Lanigan explained, but those maps would be out of date. The drone will allow for overhead photographs on the day of an investigation, which can also be used to make more detailed models of crime and accident scenes.

“Having a drone, it gives us another tool for investigations,” said Police Chief Kevin C. Beach.

“With the speed that you can deploy it, and the quality of the camera, there are a lot of different uses in the field. The cost, nowadays, is not what it used to be. They’re reasonably priced.”

The department purchased the drone in 2016 for roughly $2,500, using money that was seized in drug raids. Since they were not planning to profit off the drone, they thought they could fly it as hobbyists, with more relaxed regulations, Lanigan explained. But once they started researching drone usage, they discovered that the police department qualified as a commercial enterprise, and therefore they needed more training.

“It’s been grounded for a little while because we couldn’t operate it without some kind of certification,” Lanigan explained. “As a commercial pilot, you have to have certification.”

The department asked the NUAIR Alliance on the Griffiss Business and Technology Park to set up a training course for their officers. The NUAIR Alliance is one of the premiere drone testing sites in the country. The five officers passed the training course and are now allowed to fly the department’s drone through an agreement with the NUAIR Alliance.

The five officers are currently studying for official certification through the FAA, after which they will be allowed to fly the drone on their own.

“Honestly, it’s like going to get your pilot’s license to fly a plane,” Lanigan described. “We’re glad, now, that we can actually get out and use it.”

In Oneida County, only the state police and Utica Police have their own drone programs.

Now that they have the drone in the air, Lanigan said there are still improvements he hopes to see going forward, once the funding is available. They need more batteries and chargers, as well as an infrared upgrade to the camera to see in the dark.

“There’s a lot you can put into them,” Lanigan said.


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