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Privacy Concerns Ground Torrington, Conn., PD Drone Purchase

The Torrington City Council has tabled a vote to approve the purchase of two drones for police use after citizen privacy concerns were raised. The vote has been postponed until the September meeting.

(TNS) — City Council members are worried about how using drones will impact people's privacy rights, and this week tabled a vote to purchase them.

In July, the Torrington Police Department was accepting bids for "Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS/Drones)," and the department is asking manufacturers, wholesalers or retailers to provide bids on new models of drone equipment and accessories.

City Council members Ann Ruwet and Paul Cavagnero on Monday said they wanted more information before approving the purchase.

"I'm wondering about using a drone on private property," Ruwet said. "Unless there's a motive to investigate (a property), I'm uncomfortable with that. How will they be regulated? How do you manage an officer who just wants to see what's going on?

"I have some of the same concerns," Cavagnero said. "I'd like to see the protocol for these. There are privacy questions; this is new technology. I want to talk to the town attorney first."

Baldwin told the council that all officers will receive training to use the drones. "We will monitor everything, to make sure drones are used for the purposes they're designed for. I understand you concerns," he said.

Mayor Elinor Carbone encouraged the council to support the drone purchase, calling them "valuable tools for law enforcement."

"Almost every police department has them," she said. "We asked our insurance carrier about them, and because we're a city of 40 square miles, if a drone assists with accident investigations or missing persons, it's very helpful."

City Counsel Vic Muschell also weighed in on the privacy issue. "The principals for privacy, using a drone, are the same. It's just another way of doing surveillance. The rules apply across the board."

Ruwet was not convinced. "I'm not going to support the purchase at this time," she said. "I think it's too much intrusion on personal property. With all due respect, (the police department) has protocols in place for search and seizure."

The council tabled their vote on the purchase until its next meeting in September.

The police department wants to purchase two drones, one large model and one smaller, which will have different uses. Drones costs vary widely including training and assistance from the manufacturer.

"One of the bigger uses for smaller drones is for fatal accident scenes — it just helps us do our job better," the chief said. "It helps really document crime scenes and accident scenes from a bird's-eye perspective."

Police officers receive training to operate the drones, earning a pilot's license that is certified by the Federal Aviation Administration, Baldwin said.

Drones have been used for hostage negotiations and domestic violence situations, with success, the chief said. "It helps give officers the ability to rescue people, by being able to see what's happening," he said. "There's a lot of good that comes out of using a drone program."

©2022 The Register Citizen, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.