Worcester approves police request for drone, ending months of debate on the issue

Worcester authorities have approved police requests to buy drones, ending a three-month debate on how devices violate privacy rights and instill distrust between homeless people and law enforcement agencies. rice field.

The city council on Tuesday night voted 7-3 to approve the police bid for the drone. Shortly thereafter, Deputy Mayor Eric Battista, who has the final say on the issue, confirmed to GBH News that he would proceed with the purchase as Congress endorsed it.

Batista said Khrystian King, Etel Haxhiaj, Thu Nguyen councilors and some community members are concerned about privacy, especially because police may use this device to search homeless camps. I admitted that I was against the drone. Battista responded to police officers and councilors supporting the drone, saying the device would help law enforcement agencies maintain public safety by providing a bird’s-eye view of crime scenes and disasters.

“There are various scenarios where this is needed,” he said. “”[If] There is a large spill and you need to evacuate from a particular area — where is the spill heading — aerial photography gives us that opportunity. [find out].. “

Police officials say the remote-controlled drone will include a camera and infrared technology to detect body temperature. The city will pay for the device using about $ 25,000 from the $ 100,000 mark from the state’s Public Security Bureau, which the city council resolved to accept last year. Police will not have the drone for at least a few months while waiting for it to be delivered, Battista said.

Police drones are becoming more and more common in Massachusetts, according to data obtained by the Massachusetts ACLU. State police and law enforcement agencies that own drones include areas such as Boston, Foxborough, and Northampton.

In April, Worcester police became interested in joining the list and are currently using a drone borrowed from state police, but owning a drone allows them to investigate crime, respond to disasters, and go missing. Claimed to be useful for quick discovery. The department also said it can help drones find a homeless community and provide outreach.

It quickly caused fear between some councilors and homeless advocates that drones would violate the privacy rights of homeless people and scare them. In response, police said they had no plans to use the drone against the city’s homeless population. Still, some councilors have demanded that the city control the use of drones and create a policy banning police from using it around homeless camps.

Since then, police, city officials, and civil rights advocates have been discussing this policy for months. The Worcester police station initially agreed to include homeless carve-outs in its policy, but later stated that provisions could “handcuff” them during emergency responses involving homeless people. I got it back. He urged Congress to postpone the final vote on the drone purchase until police and the mayor’s office clarified the policy.

Last week, Batista sought to resolve policy disagreements by meeting with police officers with representatives of the ACLU in Massachusetts. They agreed that the policy should require police to provide city managers and the general public with quarterly updates documenting the use of drones. They also added a clause stipulating that drones should not be used for “harassment, intimidation, or discrimination against individuals or groups.”

“We are keenly aware of the concerns raised regarding unprotected individuals,” police chief Stephen Sargent wrote in a note to Batista on June 9. “Our department does not intend to use technology to identify or identify unprotected individuals.”

At a council meeting on Tuesday, several councilors said it was time to accept the policy and proceed with the purchase of drones.

“For me, the father of four children, I couldn’t forgive myself if I voted against this resource capable of saving someone’s life,” said Sean Rose. I did.

However, other people and groups, including the Massachusetts ACLU, continued to oppose drones. Councilor Khrystian King said police should instead use the money to train police officers to interact with the city’s youth. He, along with councilors Etel Haxhiaj and Thu Nguyen, complained that the updated drone policy did not yet include protection, especially for homeless people.

“When it comes to putting a clause, I don’t understand why it can’t be put there,” Nguyen said.

Batista reiterated that police did not use drones around homeless camps, except in emergencies. The deputy mayor added that the policy was discriminatory when selecting a particular group.

“We are trying to set a policy that affects everyone,” he said.

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