A drone is the newest tool in the Orange Police Department’s arsenal that has the potential to aid in emergency situations and even assist in day-to-day security issues and police business.
Chief Robert Gagne sees the latest piece of technology as another way to keep his officers, and his community safe. “We plan to use the drone very conservatively, it is more for safety than enforcement,” he said. Stressing that the department has no intention of “circumventing the fourth amendment,” Gagne expects the drone will be an asset when investigating events like when a child or elderly person goes missing, serious motor vehicle accidents, hazardous waste spills, hostage situations, and also aiding in security assessments to get an aerial view of a business or property. “We’re acting very cautiously and conservatively,” Gagne said. “We are very concerned with privacy-related issues and don’t want to infringe on privacy rights. Each situation is different and the circumstances would have to be conducive.”
The Police Department partnered with the Orange Volunteer Fire Department to purchase two drones, one for each of the departments, through a state grant. Each drone cost approximately $1,500. Police acquired the drone over the summer but Chief Gagne waited until protocol and policies were in place and staff training was completed in October before it was ready to use. In addition to Fire Marshall Tim Smith; three police department staff, Sergeant Ray LaPlante, drone supervisor; Detective Jay Menga and Officer Jim Boyles underwent rigorous training to receive their Federal Aviation Administration licenses. Training included logging practice flight hours and completing a written test. Gagne also called in personal friend, retired NYPD Sergeant and attorney Michael Geary, to provide additional training to his staff. Geary, an associate professor in criminal justice at Albertus Magnus College, has written extensively about drones for law enforcement publications.
Detective Menga has been getting comfortable learning to control and fly the drone during practice runs at the Old Tavern ball fields and open areas in town. “I like it a lot! I’ve always been fascinated by drones and their capabilities so when the chance came along to operate one for the department I jumped at it,” Menga said.
Gagne can’t predict the drone’s full potential until an emergency situation arises, but he does know it would have come in handy in 2011 when a local teenager went missing and law enforcement waited for an FBI helicopter to arrive from NY to canvass the area. Last summer a drone from the Westport Police Department aided in locating an emotionally disturbed male in Eisenhower Park in Milford. “It will be very helpful to us in the event we have to cover large rural areas,” Gagne said.
Assistant Chief Max Martins gave an example of a drone’s role in the event of a hostage situation or a “barricaded individual.” “A drone could be used to assess the situation without sending in an officer which allows us to potentially resolve a situation without anybody getting hurt,” Martins said. “I hope we never have a significant event requiring the use of the drone, but someday something will occur and ultimately if the drone can help our officers stay safe, or have a situation come to a peaceful resolution, all the better.”
Photo Caption: Orange Police Detective Jay Menga, FAA licensed drone operator, with OPD’s new drone.
By Laura Fantarella, Orange – Town News Correspondent