Worcester Police, City Councilors Meet About Drones

Sophia Lindstrom, Scarlet Staff

Worcester Deputy Chief of Police Operations Division Paul B. Saucier met with Worcester City officials on April 19 as part of the Worcester Police Department’s ongoing initiative to integrate drones into the city’s police and fire departments. The meeting, which took place at the Esther Howland Chamber at City Hall, was attended by Chair of the Public Safety Committee Kathleen Toomey, Vice-Chair Sarai Rivera, and Senator of the Second Worcester District Michael O. Moore among others. 

City Solicitor Mike Trainer noted that “there is no formal approval or veto power by the city council” and that the drone program must be approved by the City Manager. Thus, the meeting was meant to inform the people of Worcester and the City Councilors of the purpose of the drone initiative. 

Saucier, a strong supporter of the drone program, touted it as a de-escalation tactic with a myriad of purposes. The drones, also called unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), will not pursue motor vehicles, carry weapons, or be deployed on routine surveillance patrols. Instead, the drones will allow officers to surveil any situation before taking action. 

“In terms of de-escalation equipment, there is probably not a better piece of equipment than a UAS device,” Saucier said. 

“This device is not just gonna be flying around, looking at things,” he continued. “If there is a mission that we are deployed to, say on Salisbury Street, the officer will arrive on a vehicle…it can be deployed from there.”

Saucier also noted that the drones can be used for active shooter training in Worcester’s schools and can assist in search and rescue after events of that magnitude. The drone would be able to circle the perimeter of the building where an active shooter has been to find students in need of medical assistance much faster than an officer would on foot. 

“In this day and age, no community can say (a school shooting) isn’t gonna happen here,” Senator Moore said in support of Saucier’s plans. “So I give the Police Department credit for having the forethought and asking for technology to be used…to de-escalate.”

Senator Moore also noted that the drones can be used for search and rescue operations conducted by the Worcester Fire Department. “There’s other applications that could be used that aren’t law enforcement in nature,” he said. 

Senator Moore plans to fund the UAS program through a line item. Line items are grants given to certain departments in a congressperson’s district that are to be used for very specific purposes. Departments must request line items from their senator. The Worcester Police Department requested a line item for a K9 and a de-escalation tactic: either tasers, or a drone. 

Moore decided a drone would be the best de-escalation tactic, as close to 30 cities and towns in Massachusetts have successful drone programs already. Upton, Northbridge, and Grafton all have drone programs funded by Senator Moore. The line item Moore gave to the Worcester Police Department for public safety improvement was $100,000. 

However, there is some tension surrounding the policy that will govern the drone’s use, which has not yet been drafted. “It’s difficult to create a policy because a lot of the policy has to do with the manufacturing,” Saucier said. “We will seek community input from all stakeholders…we want the community to be able to see and touch one of these devices.” 

The drone, which will likely weigh about thirteen pounds, will not be selected until the line item is approved by the City Manager, at which point the policy will be drafted. 

Moore remains insistent that good policy is most important. “The policy that’s written that’s gonna be used by the officers is key,” he said. “That determines if it’s gonna be beneficial or not.”