[Rushtalk] St. Louis police chief wants drones to monitor city from the sky
notmyname at thatswaytoomuch.info
Wed Jul 10 23:54:36 MDT 2013
At 08:15 AM 7/10/2013 -0700, Carl Spitzer wrote:
How long will it take before they pass a law
saying shooting at a drone carries the same penalty as shooting at a cop?
>St. Louis police chief wants drones to monitor city from the sky
>June 23, 2013 12:30
>ST. LOUIS In Chief Sam Dotsons vision of
>modern policing, a drone would circle Busch
>Stadium to watch for terrorists, or silently
>pursue a criminal who thought the chase was over
>when the officer in the car behind him turned off its red lights and siren.
>And Dotson is working to make it happen.
>Criminals believe, and with some truth, that if
>they flee from police officers, officers will
>not pursue and they will ultimately elude
>capture, Dotson wrote in a letter to the
>Federal Aviation Administration. It was a
>preliminary step toward seeking approval for unmanned and unarmed flight.
>If we are serious about crime reduction
>strategies, we must look to new technologies
>which help keep officers and the public safe and
>apprehend criminals, he said in the March 25 correspondence.
>Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce, whose assent is
>required, also wrote to the FAA to offer
>enthusiastic support. She declined to
>elaborate, saying through a spokeswoman: The letter speaks for itself.
>Dotson said he would seek donations and grants
>to pay for the miniature airplanes, which run
>from $60,000 to $300,000 each pricey, but
>still cheaper and safer than a helicopter.
>Privacy advocates such as the American Civil
>Liberties Union already grappling with recent
>news that the FBI has been selectively using
>drones for surveillance over U.S. soil are
>balking at word of Dotsons contact with the FAA.
>This is a significant expansion of government
>surveillance, complained Jeffrey Mittman,
>executive director of ACLU of Eastern Missouri.
>Our laws have not kept up with our privacy
>rights. Our Fourth Amendment privacy rights
>arent safe from unreasonable search and seizure
>when youre looking at drones.
>Dotson said drones are not capable of anything
>that helicopters dont already do or that
>existing laws dont already protect.
>This isnt Big Brother, this is a decision to
>make everyone in the community safer, he insisted.
>St. Louis is hardly the first police department interested in the technology.
>The Electronic Frontier Foundation, another
>privacy advocate, discovered through Freedom of
>Information requests late last year that dozens
>of police agencies submitted FAA applications.
>In some cases, agencies shelved their programs
>because of public pressure before even getting
>off the ground. In Seattle, the mayor ordered
>the police department to return the devices because of public outrage.
>St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said he thinks
>drones could provide a safer way to pursue fugitives.
>Were proceeding in a very cautious way, he
>said in an interview a few days ago. First we
>must look at the technology and if we decide to
>use the technology, to what extent it will be used.
>The kind of capabilities Dotson advocates could
>be years away, said Kurt Frisz, president of the
>Airborne Law Enforcement Association, which
>represents police helicopter pilots.
>It is one of several groups working with the FAA
>to develop rules for domestic use of drones that
>Congress mandated by the end of next year. So
>far, the FAA has granted permission only to
>about a half-dozen police departments, mainly in
>rural areas where drones would not interfere with airports.
>Police account for only about 5 percent of drone
>applicants, who include businesses, universities
>and news media. The FAA requires that a civilian
>drone remain within sight of its operator, and
>fly no higher than 400 feet above ground.
>Equipment available within those parameters uses
>either a battery or small gasoline engine,
>capable of no more than an hour of flight at a time, Frisz said.
>Military drones can remain aloft for 36 hours at
>a time and can cost hundreds of millions of
>dollars and require ground crews of hundreds of people, he noted.
>Dotson believes its only a matter of time
>before drones can be pre-programmed to cruise
>for hours and lock on to fleeing vehicles. Since
>late February, 290 drivers have fled from St.
>Louis officers and in May the average was two a
>day, according to the department.
>The automobile didnt go from the Model T to a
>Porsche, there were many incremental steps along the way, Dotson said.
>PRIVACY ISSUES UNSETTLED
>While Congress mandated safety rules for
>domestic drones, no agency is assigned to
>privacy issues. A patchwork of state regulations
>is emerging, and some states have prohibited drones all together.
>A bill awaiting Gov. Pat Quinns signature in
>Illinois would prohibit police from deploying
>drones without warrants except in critical
>situations or using photos from them in court.
>The legislation also would forbid drones from being equipped with weapons.
>In April, the Missouri House passed a bill to
>make the state a no drone zone, but it failed in the Senate.
>The law would have banned warrantless
>surveillance via manned or unmanned aircraft,
>and required journalists to seek permission from
>property owners before using unmanned aircraft.
>It also would have required private
>organizations or state agencies to seek
>permission for any airborne surveillance.
>That proposal sent police into panic mode,
>fearing that helicopters could be grounded, said
>Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, who also is
>business manager for the St. Louis Police Officers Association.
>It was a nonsolution to a nonproblem, Roorda
>said. But the discussion is far from over.
>Frisz hopes legislators wait for the FAA
>regulations before considering any more drone
>laws. He said 39 states have proposed anti-drone legislation.
>A lot of this legislation is a knee-jerk
>reaction to drone hysteria, he said. Lets see
>what regulations are going to be before we make
>laws about something we cant even do yet.
>Frisz, who also is a St. Louis County police
>captain, helped craft the Metro Air Support
>helicopter partnership among his department, the
>city and St. Charles County. He said he sees
>drones (he prefers to call them unmanned aerial
>vehicles) as an expansion of public safety, not a threat to helicopters.
>Drones cannot rescue people or deploy officers
>into scenes, like helicopters. The FAA does not
>allow drones to fly at night. They are more at
>the mercy of weather. And, the agency requires
>each to have an operator and spotter, both with the same credentials.
>There also are safety concerns about what
>happens to people below if radio interference
>interrupts the controls, or the drone otherwise
>crashes. For now, their weight is limited to four pounds.
>Its very attractive to chiefs who want this
>bright, shiny new object, but at the same time
>you need to look at what you can do and what cant you do, Frisz said.
>His chief, Tim Fitch, said he never attends a
>police conference without a company pitching its
>latest drone technology. So far, Fitch is not impressed.
>Were not going to be out in front on this
>one, he said. But its certainly something were going to keep an eye on.
>ALTERNATIVE USES FOR DRONES
>The Mesa County Sheriffs Office in Colorado was
>one of the first to get FAA approval, and
>started using drones in 2009, said Benjamin Miller, its program manager.
>Private companies provided two battery-operated
>drones for free that he said otherwise would
>have cost about $50,000 combined. He said they
>cost about $25 an hour to operate. (Frisz said a
>helicopter costs about $250 an hour.) One of
>Mesa Countys drones can fly for about 15
>minutes, the other about an hour. Each can fit in a backpack.
>Miller said there seems like a lot of fuss for
>not a lot of technology. At the end of the day,
>youre going to pull a radio-controlled toy out
>of a box that can fly for 15 minutes, sometimes
>not even above the trees, Miller said. I found
>myself thinking, Why in the world am I working with FAA for this?
>So far, Mesa County has used drones to
>photograph and create three-dimensional models
>of crimes scenes, and help search for missing people.
>Miller said the fire department and public works division also use them.
>The community used to spend about $10,000 on a
>private plane to conduct an annual
>government-mandated aerial survey of a landfill.
>We did it in about two hours for $50, Miller
>said. Were now dreaming beyond the stuff we dreamt of before.
>Miller is considering equipping a drone to act
>as a temporary radio relay tower in rural areas
>or where regular towers have been destroyed.
>Thats huge when you think of Oklahoma, he
>said. Where a tornado knocks down all of the
>equipment, I can have an antenna in the air within 15 minutes.
>Privacy concerns have been raised and addressed,
>he said. He has spoken to police groups around
>the country and determined that secrecy, or the
>perception of it, can ground a program.
>Weve been open and transparent about it from
>the beginning, Miller said. The resistance is
>gone, but every now and then, we get a new
>community member come in and ask about it with
>the sheriff. They come in with the expectation
>that were hiding a Predator drone that we got
>from the military thats armed with missiles
>hiding in a hangar. But were so far away from that, its just crazy.
>Dotson said he is open to a public discussion here.
>We need to ask ourselves, Does the solution
>make sense? he said. And if it does, we
>should use it and not fall to political pressure.
>We all know technology helps makes life better,
>and I dont think I would be doing my job if I
>wasnt pushing this conversation.
>Christine Byers is a crime reporter for the St.
>Louis Post-Dispatch. Follow her on
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