Bay Area law enforcement agencies eye aerial drones

Bay Area law enforcement agencies are considering aerial drones originally designed for military use "as a cost-cutting way to replace helicopters." The drones under consideration as crime-fighting, protest-eyeing, life-saving tools include "live-video-feeding capabilities and different features, like infrared devices" and can cost cities $50K to $100K and up. I'd presume that the string of news items like this from around the US points to stepped-up lobbying and marketing on the part of the drone manufacturers. (via punkboyinsf)


    1. They start with the liberal parts of the country, too, since conservative Americans tend to be more authoritarian and accepting of this (outside of Ruby Ridge types, natch). Just say it’s going to be used to find illegal aliens.

  1. Ugh.  Bad idea.  Aren’t these already in use in places like South Texas, and did I read sometime recently (last year or 2?) in Florida or something? 

  2. I’m getting kind of tired of seeing these alarmist stories about police drones. These “drones” are a good thing and here’s why –

    * They only weight about 5.5lbs and have a wingspan of about 3ft.
    * Despite what many claim, they cannot be used for long term surveillance operations. Their max flight time is 40 minutes.
    * Their payload is completely taken up by camera equipment and the battery. They can’t be armed.
    * Their altitude is below 500ft and range is limited to 1km line-of-site from the operator.
    * Response time for a full-sized police heli is 3-5 minutes on average. These are up as fast as someone can open their trunk.
    * If a full-sized heli crashes, it causes a lot of damage. These are very small and light and damage would be minimal (if any at all).
    * Full-sized heli’s required a trained pilot and a co-pilot to operate the cameras.
    * Counting crew and fuel, it costs taxpayers $500-$1200/hour to deploy a heli. It costs just $0.10-$0.30/hour to fly these UAV’s.
    * Initial investment is much cheaper also, costing taxpayers between $10K-$40K compared to $500K-$3M for a full sized heli.

    Here’s a picture of what some of these police UAV’s look like –

    They’re cheaper, safer, and can be deployed faster in situations like search and rescue when lives are at risk, or when locating a carjacker running on foot. That kind of thing.

    There’s also many hobbyist UAV’s like the Parrot AR Drone ($300). These are just souped up versions of those essentially.

    1. The thing is, when there’s a helicopter above you, you know it. People are worried about surveillance drones because they’re so hard to detect. And it seems to me that most of your reasons above would lead to a vastly higher deployment rate than helicopters, especially once they get the range issues worked out. So I don’t think these are really comparable to helicopters except superficially.

      You can call concern over surveillance drones “alarmist” but personally I can’t think of a new technology put into the hands of police that hasn’t been abused, especially when there’s little or no oversight. See warrantless wiretaps, tasers, stop and frisk, etc. And the consequences of abusing something this powerful are pretty scary.

      But we all have our price. If they keep a few of them hovering over Ocean Beach so I can see really detailed surf conditions from my bedroom, they’ll get my ok.

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