Car Chases, Narcotics and Counterterrorism: Hartford, Conn., to Craft Drone Policy

While plans for the technology use already exist, city leaders say a policy must first be developed for the drones to govern their use before being implemented.

by Jenna Carlesso, The Hartford Courant / November 30, 2017

(TNS) — Hartford police will use drones to pursue stolen vehicles and fleeing suspects, and to boost counterterrorism efforts at public events under an expanded surveillance program that is expected to hit next year.

The city’s network of cameras will grow in the coming months, with as many as 150 new devices planned for major corridors and side streets, and about 50 cameras that will be placed at residential homes. Hartford already has more than 700 cameras in operation throughout the city.

New software will be used to analyze crime and traffic patterns and capture suspects.

The effort is backed by $2.5 million in state funds.

Police will use the technology to crack down on quality-of-life issues, such as illegal dumping, ATVs and dirt bikes, motor vehicle violations, narcotics markets, car break-ins and larcenies.

“If a camera is watching a neighborhood and sees constant traffic going in and out of a doorway, it can tell that that’s where the drugs are being purchased,” Deputy Chief Brian Foley said. “If it’s covering South Green Park and people are always walking over this one area or they’re congregating, it will tell us those types of things.

“It'll help tell us where people are crossing the streets, where the most dangerous areas for pedestrians are. There’s so much they can build into it.”

Instead of engaging in high speed chases, police will now send drones to follow cars or ATVs.

“One of the most vexing quality-of-life issues for residents in our city is the proliferation of ATVs, dirt bikes and quads that our police department cannot safely chase,” Mayor Luke Bronin said. “A small percentage of this grant is going to be used to purchase a pair of drones ... to locate where these illegal ATVs and dirt bikes are being stored so we can get them off our streets.”

There is no timetable yet for deployment of the drones. City leaders say a policy must first be developed to govern their use. The drones will monitor festivals, concerts, marathons and other public events in Hartford.

Additional cameras will be placed along busy streets like Maple, Fairfield and New Britain avenues. Some of the devices are mobile, meaning they’ll track one location for a period of time and then move on to another.

Police are also partnering with residents to put cameras outside homes, offering better visibility of smaller streets. Residents can link the footage into the city’s network.

Foley said some Hartford dwellers have already contacted the department about participating. Officers will determine what the need is in each area.

“We have a lot of residents who want to put cameras up at their homes, but also want to tie those cameras into HPD’s network so they can become a tool in deterring and solving crimes,” Bronin said.

A portion of the state funds will also be used to install speed bumps on roads hazardous to bikers and walkers. City officials are working with neighborhood groups to identify those streets.

The mayor said the expansion is the latest step in Hartford’s push to modernize its crime-fighting and data-collection efforts.

The city last year debuted its Real-Time Crime and Data Intelligence Center, where civilian crime analysts log information from various sources.

Footage from hundreds of cameras is fed into the center, and workers compile information from license-plate readers and a ShotSpotter system that tracks the sound of gunfire.

©2017 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.