Police Commissioner says BPD Ready to Implement Drones

The Boston Police Department (BPD) is interesting and ready to try to roll out the use of drones in its police work, according to Commissioner William Evans, but Councilor Lydia Edwards said she would like to discuss new technology with the police and community before putting it on the streets.

During a discussion with the City Council on Monday, March 12, about the successful piloting of police body cameras, Evans said the next technological wave is likely to be the use of drones, and he said the BPD would like to get started using them.

“That’s one thing that we want to start using shortly,” he said. “The whole country – police agencies all over the country – are using them now. That’s a tool we can use to be more efficient…That’s something we’re going to be using shortly.”

Drones in policing have been implemented for many different uses, from taking crime scene photos to patrolling desolate areas of the border. Boston Police have not used them yet, and Evans said they would be helpful at crime scenes and during the Marathon.

“We can be at a crime scene for two or three hours,” he said. “Sometimes there’s a body there and it takes time to close out the scene – tying up resources and closing streets…We would like to use them at the crime scenes and to do measurements. It would be more efficient.”

While many are pushing the Police Department to implement newer and more advanced policing technology, Edwards said she would like to make sure the police are informing the Council and community before putting such things as drones to work on the streets.

She said it’s a matter of getting comfortable with increased surveillance – and finding the line to where the community wants such surveillance to stop.

“I want us as a community to be part of deciding how we will agree to be surveilled,” she told Evans. “In as much as the police are excited for drones being helpful…I would hope there is also some discussion to how they are going to be used. I would hope the community can discuss how being policed and surveilled.”

The comments came when Council President Andrea Campbell asked the department if they were looking at other technologies besides body cameras, which have become relatively more common in policing since Boston started debating the issue.

“I want to know what other technologies we’re looking at besides body cameras,” she said. “We can often get sucked into this one tool – body cameras – but there are other tools out there that can help you be more efficient. I don’t want to get bogged down with just one piece of technology…I’ve heard overwhelming support for (the body camera) tool and I think it’s time we moved on to the next tool.”

Evans said implementing technology is a tough thing with the public, because many are skeptical and suspicious when technological tools come into play.

“We don’t have anything up our sleeves,” he said. “When you move on technology, people always seem to look at it like we’re up to no good.”

Other technologies being considered are mobile devices for every officer.

Most officers carry their own smart phones, and most cruisers have computers available. However, having a mobile smart device on their person could unlock a lot of assistance, such as language translation apps and Internet searches on the spot.

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