HomeCommissioners mull drone purchase; address privacy, battery concerns

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Harrison County officials approached commissioners Wednesday about the possibility of purchasing a drone that would be used for multiple purposes.

Accompanied by a video presentation, Michael Pizzino, the county’s Geographic Information Systems Manager, and Sergeant R.A. Titchenal of the Harrison County Sheriff’s Office explained a drone could be used for day-to-day operations, as well as for emergency situations.

“If you have a missing child, for example, in an urban area, we have the ability to actually zoom in and have a better look if that’s the child themselves versus another child,” Sgt. Titchenal explained.

The idea gained traction after the floods in July, when private citizens dispatched their drones to capture the impact the flood waters had.

Police also used them this month, during the search for a downed plane in Wetzel County and during a manhunt for suspects wanted in West Milford.

Those drones, however, did not possess the same capabilities or software as the one under consideration for purchase by the county.

The cost of one drone, batteries, camera functions, and software could amount up to $34,000.

Ron Watson, president of the commission, also floated the idea that a drone could be utilized in day-to-day scenarios, such as for appraisals of properties.

“There’s too much intrusiveness in government nowadays, and pushing for more, and I just prefer privacy,” Stephen McElroy, a Harrison County resident, said, pushing back on that idea.

Watson, though, felt reassured after the presentation that civilians’ privacy would not be violated.

The thermal technologies, for example, would not be used to see inside structures.

Commissioners did appear hesitant about the drone’s batteries, which only last 20-30 minutes. Backup batteries would be included, but Watson wondered if the time it took to change the batteries would affect the timeline of a police search.

Sheriff Robert Matheny said that based on his experience handling the plane search and manhunt, he was confident it would not impact a search or investigation.