Union County sheriff mulls drone for annual budget

Drones that are used by law enforcement typically cost about $45,000-$50,000, not including the cost for training.

UNION COUNTY, NJ — After less than one month on the job, Union County Sheriff Peter Corvelli is considering asking for a drone in his 2018 budget request.

This comes as the Essex County Sheriff’s Office also considers the purchase of a drone, following a demonstration by the sheriffs’ Monmouth counterpart.

Corvelli told LocalSource in a phone interview Friday, Jan. 26, that he is reviewing the budget now and the details need to be ironed out relating to finances. He estimated that a drone would cost between $45,000 to $50,000, plus additional expenses associated with training.
Information provided by vendors has demonstrated that the advanced technology would serve critical roles in search-and-rescue operations, Corvelli said.

“With a loved one missing, you can’t put a price tag on it,” he said. When the drone technology is applied to search-and-rescue operations, “the investment is instrumental.”

Primarily the drone would be used to find people with dementia or Alzheimer’s who wander. They could be found more quickly and with pinpoint accuracy, Corvelli said.

While Union and Essex counties are still reviewing and discussing the logistics involved in acquire drones, the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office has been using one for three years. Cynthia Scott, the MCSO public information officer, told LocalSource in a Jan. 29 phone interview that using the drone has resulted in nothing but success.

When deployed, the drone provides law enforcement with an aerial view typically unseen, she said. The drone also brings additional security to emergency operations with perimeter search and rescue and can aid an emergency response team.

If a suspect is believed to be inside a barricaded building, the drone can identify all the points of entry for on-the-ground law enforcement, Scott told LocalSource on Jan. 29. The MCSO’s drone is controlled through the agency of the Special Operations Division, which is operated by three officers. They are certified through an online unmanned aerial vehicle training program by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Scott told LocalSource that the training, which includes licensing, costs about $500 per officer.

While Middlesex and other government agencies laud their drones, others have raised the issue of their misuse and invasion of privacy. And aside from law enforcement, drones can be purchased for personal use.

Some of those concerns were addressed in a bill sponsored by state Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick of Union and signed into law by former Gov. Chris Christie during the recent lame-duck session of the state legislature.

The law makes it a crime to use drones while intoxicated, hunting or for conducting surveillance on a prison. The bill also criminalizes the use of a drone to interfere with a first responder during an emergency, and makes it a restraining order violation to use a drone near a person or location protected by the order.

“Drones can be a fun hobby, but they can also be used to invade a person’s privacy. At worst, drones can be used by terrorists to carry out attacks,” Bramnick said in the Jan. 16 press release. “This common sense law promotes safety and protects the privacy of private citizens.”

Despite restrictions on personal use, there are no regulations on drones used by law enforcement. Bramnick told LocalSource on Jan. 29 that his sponsored bill concentrates on consumer use. When asked if there should be regulation on use by law enforcement, Bramnick responded that should be determined by the courts, not through legislation.

“This is going to be an evolving case,” Bramnick said. The Constitution protects private citizens from illegal search and seizure, but the courts are going to have to determine what is constitutional as technology and science advances.”