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SWAT teams in Massachusetts are gearing up for battle, and the latest on domestic drones

Central Massachusetts SWAT Team Just Got an Armored Personnel Carrier

Police officers in central Massachusetts are thrilled about their new toy: a $300,000, 19,400-pound armored personnel carrier called a BearCat. The mini-tank, which can hold up to 12 officers at a time, is equipped with a camera, battering ram, and a rooftop turret for a sniper. The Worcester Telegram & Gazette quoted a police officer as saying that the truck, which apparently drives just like an SUV, has "that new tank smell."

Cape Cod Regional SWAT Team Also Just Got a BearCat

Back in August, the Cape Cod regional SWAT team showed off its own BearCat, this one purchased with help from a $250k Department of Homeland Security (DHS) grant. The police chief of Dennis, Massachusetts told the local paper that the armored personnel carrier is "appropriate for what we deal with in the area." According to the Cape Cod Times, the truck is one of "[f]ive vehicles built by Pittsfield-based Lenco Armored Vehicles […] bought by the state in bulk. One other was sent to Mattapoisett to be used in New Bedford-area communities," the paper reported.

Boston Regional SWAT Team to Test Miniature Drone

Meanwhile, defense contractor Aurora Flight Sciences is reportedly loaning the Metropolitan Law Enforcement Council, the Boston area SWAT team, a small drone it calls a "Skate." Aurora describes the Skate as a "high performing and logistically efficient [drone]" that works "to provide first-hand intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance for pop-up and fleeting threats. The new Aurora Skate SUAS puts this capability in the hands of the individual warfighter"…or police officer. (Given recent trends towards the militarization of the police, sometimes it can be hard to tell who is who.) You can check out how the drone works in the video advertisement produced by its manufacturer, below. 

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According to an Aurora employee, "MetroLEC SWAT is an extremely forward thinking and innovative agency that has great ideas on UAS applications in law enforcement." The Boston SWAT team must be forward thinking indeed, given that the agency doesn’t appear on the any of the publicly disclosed lists of entities that have received authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to fly drones. (Though the SWAT team did apply for an authorization back in October.) The drone manufacturer Aurora is on one of those lists, but it apparently doesn’t have authorization to fly the Skate; the only model mentioned in the public list of Special Airworthiness Certificates released by the FAA is the Aurora "Goldeneye." Perhaps the Boston SWAT team intends to test the drone inside?

UPDATE: Due to the fact that the FAA takes a really, really long time to get any documents to EFF, we can't be certain that the Boston SWAT team is flying commando (get it?). The latest list was released to EFF this past week, but the list itself was produced in October. Therefore we can't be sure whether or not the SWAT team has indeed gotten a certificate to fly from the FAA. Either way, what's the Boston SWAT team need a drone for? And what are the rules it will abide by when it flies?

The Federal Aviation Administration Releases New Drone List

Speaking of those drone authorizations, EFF has pried the latest list out of the FAA through a public records lawsuit. Check it and prior versions of the lists out at EFF's website to see if your city or state has been approved to fly drones. The latest list doesn’t mention any entities in Massachusetts, but the US military, which has several installations in and around the state, was granted a number of new drone authorizations. The Raytheon corporation, which has offices in Massachusetts, has also been granted some certificates to fly. 

SWAT Team Does Active Shooter Drills at Silver Lake Middle and Regional High Schools 

Heavily armed police officers in military style gear performed what is becoming a routine exercise in public schools across the country in Kingston, Massachusetts middle and high schools in late January, outraging some parents. According to CBS local news, the school only notified parents that the drill was to take place the day of the fake raid. "[S]ome [parents] called to complain immediately,” the news reported. “Angry parents said their children were distressed by the experience." One 11th grader told the journalists: "They came in with guns; it was sort of scary I guess."

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.