The city police commission unanimously approved spending up to $30,000, from the late Geraldine Webber's bequest, to buy a van for transporting six drones purchased with a Homeland Security grant.
(TNS) — The Portsmouth, N.H., police commission unanimously approved spending up to $30,000, from the late Geraldine Webber's bequest, to buy a van for transporting six drones purchased with a Homeland Security grant.
The commission vote occurred Oct. 30 when Police Chief Robert Merner said the $69,638 Homeland Security grant was used to purchase one large, one medium and four smaller training drones.
"Even the training drones have a lot of capability," Merner said, while describing possible applications as finding lost persons, viewing building perimeters when there's someone dangerous inside, crime scenes and at fires.
While the drones have not yet been deployed, as officers are training to use them, getting all the gear in one place, even for training purposes, "has been problematic," Merner said. The chief said even with the seats down in his cruiser, all the drones and gear couldn't fit inside and it's taken two cruisers to get everything to training locations.
"Our fleet is incompatible," he told the commission.
The recommended solution, Merner said, is to purchase a utility van dedicated to the drone program. If the van is purchased from the Webber inheritance, the only expenditure from the police budget will be $400 a year for insurance, he said.
Police Commissioner Joe Onosko, who was Webber's neighbor, said he was certain Webber, "would be very pleased to have the money go to the van, to have all these drones go to the site."
"These drones are quite remarkable," Onosko said, while also noting they'll keep officers out of harm's way and can detect toxic chemicals at a fire.
Webber was filmed in May 2012 while signing her will and trust documents and said she wanted inheritances she left for the Police and Fire Departments to be spent on safety equipment.
Commissioner Jim Splaine said during the commission meeting that the drone van aligns with Webber's wishes, as the technology can keep officers and the public safer. He said he'd also like police officials to consider honoring Webber by perhaps naming the van after her.
"I'd like the department to think about how that could be done," he said. "Mrs. Webber, she did this for us."
Commissioner Stefany Shaheen also voted in favor of the van purchase.
Police business manager Karen Senecal noted that because the drones were bought with a federal grant, they must also be made available for use by surrounding communities and state police, as needed.
Onosko said the drone program is still in the training stage, but when they are deployed, there will be a website where the public can see reports about every time one was used, which officer used it, its duration of flight, purpose and location.
"We're going to be fully transparent with drones in Portsmouth and they're going to be used for proper purposes," said Onosko, who added that police procedures for the drones will also be posted online and can be modified if someone from the public makes a persuasive argument.
Webber's initial will and trust, leaving half her $2 million-plus estate to the police and fire departments, was changed to leave the bulk of her estate to now-fired officer Aaron Goodwin, with whom Webber, then 92, had fallen in love, she told state investigators.
In August 2015, Judge Gary Casavechia ruled that Goodwin had exerted undue influence over Webber, who was diagnosed with dementia, "by acting upon her fears and hopes." The judge dismissed the will that gave Goodwin Webber's home, stocks and bonds, restoring the trust that gave the Police and Fire Departments half her estate.
Goodwin was fired and the Portsmouth Herald has appealed to the New Hampshire Supreme Court to make public a copy of an arbitrator's report that reportedly orders payment to him, related to his termination.
©2019 Portsmouth Herald, N.H. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.