MERIDEN — Members of the Police and Fire departments are receiving training and certification to operate drones.
The drones will be used for search and rescue, suspect searches, accident reconstruction, fire investigations and other tasks. Representatives from Axon Air, the drone vendor, were on hand for a recent orientation.
“There are multiple uses both in law enforcement and fire services,” Police Chief Jeffry Cossette said during the orientation.
Cossette said the department will start with two drones — DJI Mavic Pro 2 Enterprise models — costing $3,000 each. The drones were purchased under a line item in the current fiscal year budget that includes upgraded body cameras and in-car camera systems provided through a five-year contract with Axon, an Arizona-based company formerly known as Taser.
Cossette hopes to have the officers trained and licensed within a month and expects drones will also be used at events such as the Daffodil Festival to monitor the crowd.
Police plan to have five or six officers receive training to obtain a drone pilot license from the FAA.
Fire Lt. David Pineau said his department plans to have about eight members trained and licensed. Pineau, a licensed pilot who also works with the Civil Air Patrol, anticipates that at the outset the drones will be most used during fire investigations and pre-incident planning.
The drones, which can fly about 30 minutes on a single charge, are equipped with a speaker for announcements and infrared and thermal imaging capabilities, said Jacob Furst, customer success manager for Axon.
Brandy Shaffer, program manager for Axon, said the company did a lot of research to develop the Enterprise model, which is primarily used by law enforcement.
Currently, only about 10 percent of law enforcement agencies in the country use drones, and Meriden is one of the first in the state. Shaffer added there are other departments in the state in the process of obtaining drones, but Meriden is the furthest along in the process.
Southington Police Lt. Stephen Elliott said his department does not have drones, but officials there are interested in pursuing the technology in the future. Wallingford Police Lt. Cheryl Bradley said her department also does not have drones, but knows there are departments that Wallingford can call on if a drone is needed.
Meriden Police Sgt. Jeff Herget anticipates his department will have a policy for assisting other towns when requested.
State police also utilize drones.
Herget said a letter was sent to every member of the department to see who wanted to participate in the drone program.
Hopefully, he said, those selected will cover every shift, but added a drone pilot can be called in when they are not scheduled to work, similar to K9 officers.
“I’m excited for it, it’s a new technology,” Herget said. “I’m hopeful that the public will be on board with it. The uses are limitless, for search and rescue to accident investigation, SWAT callouts. We could use them frequently; I hope we do.”