Drones Help Massachusetts State Police Reconstruct Auto Accidents

The department will survey, photograph and measure car crashes with the drone, a tool that will help authorities clear the scene and reopen highways faster.

by Jordan Graham, Boston Herald / December 12, 2016
Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock

(TNS) -- State police officials today have unveiled the department’s new state-of-the-art drone that will soon provide investigators reconstructing car accidents with a much-needed eye in the sky — and is expected to be the first in a fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

“This is the first step of a UAV program,” said David Procopio, a state police spokesman.

The department will survey, photograph and measure car crashes with the drone, a tool that will help authorities clear the scene and reopen highways faster.

“It’ll be flying at a relatively low altitude over a small area,” Procopio said. “We’re doing this to help motorists.”

But before the new device can take to the sky, Procopio said, the department will have to finalize a UAV policy that will spell out exactly how drones can be used.

The drone — a DJI Inspire Pro — along with necessary software and other equipment cost $18,000, according to a state Department of Transportation spokesman. DOT purchased the drone using funds earmarked for safety improvements.

Although Procopio said the department doesn’t have any immediate plans to add another drone to the force, he did say the devices could be used in a variety of other ways, including search and rescue situations. The department issued a request for drone bids last year but didn’t buy one.

In that request, state police said they were looking for a UAV with an infrared camera, a standard camera with at least a 30-times zoom, and the ability to track and identify the GPS location of any object in its sights.

The new drone will be unveiled during a demonstration outside Gillette Stadium in Foxboro at 10:30 a.m.

Kade Crockford, director of the Technology for Liberty Program at the ACLU of Massachusetts, said laws need to be in place to prevent state police from using a drone to violate privacy or illegally conduct investigations.

“It would be fantastic if the Legislature or even the governor decided to make some rules to make sure this technology couldn’t be abused,” Crockford said. “What used to be a future possibility is now a reality.”

Crockford mentioned a limit on keeping and accessing data after it’s been collected and requiring a warrant for any surveillance as measures she’d like to see included.

The ACLU has worked with a state representative to file a bill requiring warrants for drone searches, though it is unclear whether they will do so when the new legislative session begins next year.

©2016 the Boston Herald Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.