BRUNSWICK — The Town Council approved a new pilot program by the Brunswick Police Department that will acquire drones to help patrol for trespassers on rail lines.

The program will be part of an ongoing project that uses live cameras to monitor the tracks south of the train station with the aim of preventing accidents. The drones will allow police to patrol a larger area of the tracks.

“We’re not using this technology for enforcement purposes, we’re using it for detection and education,” said police Cmdr. Thomas Garrepy. “We could be looking for people in a matter of 7 or 8 minutes, versus what it could take us to walk down the tracks or utilize bicycles.”

The police station has monitors connected to webcams at several locations along the track, but they don’t cover its entire length in Brunswick.

 

 

State law requires local police to create guidelines for training officers on use of the drones. Officers would be required to file a detailed plan for each flight, and to log the time, duration of and reason for each flight. The department is prohibited from using the drone to surveil anyone exercising rights of free speech or assembly.

Town councilors approved the drones by a 7-2 margin, but dissenting Councilors Steve Walker and Sarah Brayman were concerned about the potential for the drones being used for purposes other than monitoring train tracks. They said they also had concerns that the written drone policy wasn’t presented along with the proposal.

“I’m not entirely comfortable with this, not having the policy in front of me,” Brayman said.

Other concerns included how much noise the drones might make, and  unanticipated privacy issues might arise from using them.

According to Garrepy, the drones are too loud to sneak up on anyone, and have bright lights on them to alert low-flying aircraft to their presence.

Councilor David Watson said using the drones would be safer than sending officers down the tracks on patrols.

“It’s not only just saving the man hours, but also potential injury of an officer,” he said.

Public comment on the issue was limited, perhaps due to the late hour of the meeting. Richard Fisco, the only citizen to speak on the issue, said he favored the  drones.

“It’s really a tool that I really would like to see our police have, not just for checking our train tracks,” he said. He cited Brunswick’s topography as a good reason to have it.