The long arm of the law now reaches into the skies above Oneida County with the unveiling by Sheriff Robert M. Maciol of the department’s new drone unit.
There are five trained and certified members of the new Unmanned Aircraft Systems Unit, along with eight drones for both indoor and outdoor use.
“This technology will keep law enforcement, first-responders of any kind, it will keep them much safer,” Maciol said this morning.
“As far as incident commanders, they will be able to make solid decisions. They’re going to see things from above that you can’t see standing on the ground. Whether we’re making tactical decisions or rescue decisions; we can go on and on and on. The opportunities are endless.”
The drones will be used for both outdoor and indoor operations, Maciol said. The larger drones — Mavic Pro — can assist with viewing flood damage and house fires, as well as rescue calls into wooded areas. The smaller drones — Mavic Air — can be sent into buildings in search of suspects or active shooters. The drones are battery-powered.
Maciol said the drone unit will be available 24/7 to any other law enforcement and rescue agency in the county should they need aerial assistance.
The members of the unit are Chief Deputy Jonathan Owens, Inv. Fred Peck, Lt. Pete Healt, Deputy Nicholas Mateijec and Deputy Lauren Marleau. All five have been certified for flying drones through the Federal Aviation Administration.
“We took a couple years getting to this point because we wanted to ensure that we were doing this right and that we had the experts at our side guiding us,” Maciol stated.
“Policy development was extremely important to us. We wanted to assure the public that these pieces of equipment are going to be used, obviously, to keep the public safe, but at the same time, we wanted to assure the public that we’re not using these pieces of technology to invade their privacy or to violate any of their Constitutional rights.”
Maciol said he intends to post the unit’s policies on his department’s website in the near future so that the public can read the policies for themselves. The policies include not using the drones for personal business, not using the drones to harass or annoy people and not using the drones for random surveillance.
“They’re never going to be weaponized,” Maciol added. “Obviously, we’re never going to use them for that.”
The drones cost around $1,000 a piece, sometimes less, and were fully funded within the department’s annual operating budget, the sheriff stated. The drones are small enough to be carried in squad cars for easier deployment.
Maciol said he hopes to add more members to the unit over time. He also plans to make the drones part of Project Lifesaver, which monitors patients with dementia and other such developmental disabilities.
The Rome Police Department has had their own drone unit since spring 2018.