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 a continuation of an ongoing pilot project in Brunswick that uses live cameras to monitor the train tracks south of the train station for trespassers in order to prevent incidents. The drone program, which councilors approved 7 – 2, will allow police to patrol a larger area of the tracks, and will be part of a first-of-its kind program in partnership with the Federal Rail Authority.

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

The police station currently has monitors that show a live feed of the track in multiple locations. However, the cameras can’t cover the entire length of track in Brunswick.

State law requires any law enforcement agency get permission of the town before the acquisition of any drone. It also requires an extensive policy that includes training and reports on each time the UAV is used for any reason. Officers would be required to record the duration of flight, times of flight, and reasons behind it every time it was flown. In addition, a detailed flight plan for each flight would be required, and the department would be prohibited from using the device to conduct surveillance on anyone exercising their rights to free speech or assembly.

Some councilors were concerned about the acquisition, saying the drone could be used for purposes other than surveying the rail lines. Councilors Steve Walker and Sarah Brayman were both concerned that the written policy wasn’t presented along with the proposal.

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

Other questions included how much noise the UAV would make, and what sort of privacy issues may arise from it. According to Garrepy, the vehicle is too loud to sneak up on anyone, and includes a variety of bright lights in order to warn any low-flying aircraft of its presence.

“It has to be marked when it’s in the air,” he said.

Other councilors were in favor of the program, and saw potential for using it outside of the pilot program.

Councilor David Watson said sending officers down the tracks presents safety issues for police.

“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, partially due to the late hour at the meeting. Richard Fisco, the only person to speak on the issue, said he was in favor of the police having a drone.

“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.

Walker and Brayman were the dissenting votes on the proposal.