WESTFIELD, NJ — News that the Westfield Police are using drones as part of its patrols created a stir on social media last Wednesday, but the department’s chief said the technology is common and appropriate for law enforcement use.

Police Chief Christopher Battiloro told TAPinto Westfield that two Westfield Police officers recently gained certification to fly the drones under the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Rule, Part 107.

The officers use the drones to patrol town parks, particularly those areas of parks that might otherwise not be accessible to officers in a patrol car, Battiloro said by email.

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“This is just another method or manner of conducting police patrols, and it should not be construed as anything more,” Battiloro said.

Not all parks are under constant video surveillance, he said.

“It is impossible for the police to be everywhere at once, but we certainly do try to create an ‘omnipresence,’” Battiloro added.

Police in Westfield started researching and acquiring drones appropriate for law enforcement use last year, he said. Certification of the drone operators, Battiloro said, is ongoing and will continue to be. FAA law requires it.

“As Chief of Police, I am always striving to find for new, more innovative ways to better perform our duties and responsibilities,” Battiloro said. “Utilizing this technology, which is now almost as commonplace in law enforcement today as body worn cameras, is fully in line with that goal.”

Mayor Shelley Brindle had discussed the drones’ use last week, noting that they are programmed to emit a siren and recorded message to help with enforcement of the then park closures.

Battiloro said the drones can be programmed to communicate a variety of audio messages. He described the devices as an alternative to using police utility task vehicles, similar to ATVs, in the parks in that they can reach areas officers could not with a patrol car.

“The Westfield Police Department also deploys officers in utility task vehicles (UTVs) from time to time as well, to the patrol the park’s wooded areas,” he said. “However, … cold and wet weather has precluded their more widespread use.”

Westfield is hardly alone in its use of police drones.

As reported, Union Township Police announced in April 2019, it would be adding drones to its police force. More recently, police in Elizabeth announced in a video on Facebook that they are deploying drones city-wide “to help combat people not following social distancing.”

In Westfield, the chief sees the technology as a way to perform certain essential police tasks more effectively.

“In many ways, drones can perform necessary and vital tasks for us in a far more efficient and effective way than any other tool, process and/or procedure we presently have in place,” Battiloro said.

Email Matt Kadosh at mkadosh@tapinto.net | Twitter: @MattKadosh

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