The Boston Police Department has purchased another “high performance” drone — and wants to create a new unit to fly it.

But expansion New concerns that police drones could be used to carry out regular surveillance that violate people’s rights to Article 4 of the Constitutional Amendment against unjustified searches. Last fall, the city council passed an ordinance from 20 July requiring the department to disclose all past and future purchases of surveillance technology to the council. In addition to requiring the department to obtain permission from Congress before purchasing new technology, the ordinance also the council will consider the technology that police have already purchased and whether the department can continue to use it. Can be determined.

A spokesperson for the mayor’s office, Michelle Wu, said the mayor “will ensure this.” [purchase] Once officially in force, it will be fully compliant with the Surveillance and Surveillance Ordinance.

According to data reported by the Massachusetts ACLU, more than 12 police stations in the state use drones on a regular basis. Law enforcement drones make up more than 40% of all drones registered with state government agencies.

The history of careful purchases by police stations raised concerns late last year after an investigation by WBUR Radio, and ProPublica found that it used funds seized on criminal charges to buy spyware from the public eye. Did.

“The acquisition and use of such technology must be scrutinized before purchasing and using the technology. It secretly acquires these tools and uses them disproportionately in black and brown areas. That’s because there are so many things, “said Kade Crockford, director. The latest purchase of technology, division of the Liberty program at the Massachusetts ACLU.

In 2017, several residents of Mildred C. Haley Housing Development in Jamaica Plain took pictures of two uniformed police officers “testing” a drone in an apartment. Police officers are likely to be “playing with toys,” the agency said, and all drones purchased by the Boston Police Department at the time were still in the package. A representative from the office of then mayor Martin J. Walsh assured the public that “if the Boston Police Department uses a drone, it is after the process of community involvement.”

According to a document obtained by Globe, the department purchased this latest drone and support equipment from the local company Ascent Aerosystems. The Boston City Purchase Order shows that the department has selected the company’s all-weather high-performance spirit drone ($ 14,000), an object tracking thermal imager ($ 10,000), and several other devices.

In a letter to the city justifying the purchase, Sergeant Karl Brand, The person who manages the department’s drone uses the department for various “missions” including crowd management, crime scene mapping, “photo and video deployment”, “special situations”, and “others”. Explained that he was looking for a versatile drone for a special event assigned by the Commissioner, Chief Director, and / or Boston Police. [unmanned aerial system] Manager or nominee. “

Police said, “We will need an aircraft with strong communication capabilities … It can work and function even in very bad weather,” said Brando, “designed to incorporate new technology during development.” Must be done. “

Wu’s A spokeswoman said in a statement that the division’s current surveillance capabilities were expanded to “visual information when BPD staff are at risk or inaccessible, for example, in unstable buildings, investigation of suspicious luggage, or radiation detection. It will be provided. ” .. “

“The ministry has enthusiastically focused on the freedom and privacy of its citizens and has made it clear that it will comply with the policies outlined in the Oversight Ordinance,” the statement said. Boyle confirmed that the ordinance was incorporated into the department’s existing rules regarding the use of drones.

Crockford said a hearing on past and future purchases by the ministry after the ordinance came into force “worked on privacy advocates and policy makers more specifically about how to use such technology. He said he was hoping to give him an opportunity.

Current police policy means that it can be used for anything, as drones in departments that include, but are not limited to, may be deployed: “It’s not a limit.”

In addition to purchasing surveillance equipment, police want to hire and train 15 police officers to operate the drone “on-call basis.” According to a document obtained by Globe, the department was scheduled to start accepting applications last Friday. Officers operating drones must have a valid Federal Aviation Administration license and a remote pilot certificate specifically for small drones.

Since the Boston Police Department began operating the drone in 2019, its use has been limited to crime scene response units. However, in September 2021, about two weeks before updating the drone policy, police said the brand, the ministry’s only unmanned aerial vehicle system manager, is now a two-person unit that includes only the brand and unit captain Timothy Connolly. Moved to Homeland Security.

The document obtained by Globe states that the department “clarifies that the intent is clear.” [is] To Expand Drone Use … Beyond Crime Site Investigations “The switch to the Department of Homeland Security marks the beginning of an effort to increase drone operations.

Crockford called the transition of the drone program to Homeland Security an extension of the “concerns” of surveillance capabilities beyond the responsibility of regular police.

Anyone Wu appoints as a police commissioner will have considerable power over the drone unit. Under current city policy, the commissioner has the authority to determine special events and situations that require the use of the drone. When a drone unit is created, it makes the final decision on who will fly the aircraft.

“All applicants are evaluated based on their qualifications and experience, but the final decision is based on the best interests of the department as determined by the Police Commissioner,” the job description states.

Kendra Lara was one of several city council members who said the department was unaware that they had recently purchased another drone and repeated the importance of considering all surveillance. Techniques purchased by police after the ordinance came into force.

“It is important to protect citizens from excessive police surveillance, so the creation of units at that level will be scrutinized by the council,” she said. “We also carefully examine the privacy policy for this surveillance device and where its data goes to ensure that it does not infringe on the rights of the resident.”

Ivy Scott can be reached at Follow her on her Twitter @itsivyscott..

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