Drones — Coming to a Police Station Near You?

Drones. We’ve heard about them in Iraq and Afghanistan, their “work” in Pakistan, Yemen, and other places around the world. But have you thought about them being used in your own city?

What’s the problem? Aren’t they just like the video cameras that have popped up like garlic mustard plants all over America?

Not quite. Video cameras take pictures, they cannot gather (as of now) electronic intelligence, nor can they kill you. Drones can.

Here’s an interesting article from the east coast. Its by Paul D. Shinkman, of WTOP, Washington, D.C. www.wtop.com who does a good job of illustrating the current drone situation.

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WASHINGTON – Police drones flying over Virginia would be “great” and “the right thing to do” for the same reasons they are so effective in a battlefield environment, the state’s chief executive said Tuesday.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, says he is open to any technology that makes law enforcement more productive. The use of drones, which was recently endorsed by the police chiefs of Fairfax County and D.C., would make better use of valuable police resources.

Increased safety and reduced manpower are among the reasons the U.S. military and intelligence community use drones on the battlefield, which is why it should be considered in Virginia, he says.

“It’s great,” he said while speaking on WTOP’s “Ask the Governor” program. “If you’re keeping police officers safe, making it more productive and saving money…it’s absolutely the right thing to do.”

A proposal to purchase drones hasn’t yet reached his desk, he says, but state law enforcement agencies are looking for the the most current ways to fight crime.

That sentiment was echoed last month by David Rohrer, chief of police for Fairfax County, one of the state’s most affluent areas.

“Drones will certainly have a purpose and a reason to be in this region in the next, coming years,” he told WTOP. “Just as a standpoint as an alternative for spotting traffic and sending information back to our VDOT Smart Traffic centers, and being able to observe backups.”

D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier, a national security expert, told WTOP in early May that the use of drones is ideal for “a sprawling county” such as Fairfax.

Unmanned aerial aircrafts were first proven in combat environments over Afghanistan and Iraq as a part of the military and CIA presence there. Police forces in Arizona first employed them domestically to help monitor illegal immigration and trade over the U.S.-Mexican border.

McDonnell added Tuesday it will prove important to ensure the state maintains Americans’ civil liberties, such as privacy, if it adds drones to its law enforcement arsenal.

The Federal Aviation Administration released a list in April of agencies and organizations currently cleared to use drones, which includes Virginia Tech. Virginia Commonwealth University had been cleared, but its permit has expired (See map below).

Drones over U.S. soil has turned some heads in Congress.

Sites of current FAA drone license applications.

“The potential for invasive surveillance of daily activities with drone technology is high,” wrote Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., in an April 19 letter to FAA. “We must ensure that as drones take flight in domestic airspace, they don’t take off without privacy protections for those along their flight path.”

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said in the same letter he “proudly supported” the FAA Modernization and Reform Act that allowed for the domestic use of drones. There are many institutions in his home state that FAA has cleared for drone use, including Texas A&M University, and the police forces in the city of Arlington outside Dallas-Fort Worth and in Montgomery County near Houston.

WTOP’s Mark Segraves contributed to this report. Follow PaulMarkand WTOP on Twitter.

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The problem here is that it is one more step forward that will turn police away from their primary task of getting closer to the people they serve and cause them to over-rely on technology rather than interpersonal skills to collaboratively develop safer communities. It’s what I warned about in my book, Arrested Development: A Veteran Police Chief Sounds Off About Protest, Racism, Corruption and the Seven Steps Necessary to Improve Our Nation’s Police (April, 2012). Drones are going to be another test to the important balance we have in a our society between security and freedom.

My book can be ordered on Amazon.com at:

http://www.amazon.com/Arrested-Development-Veteran-Corruption-Necessary/dp/1470102560/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1335197097&sr=8-1