[Rushtalk] St. Louis police chief wants drones to monitor city from the sky

Paf Dvorak 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 
>am  • 
>Christine Byers 
>ST. LOUIS • In Chief Sam Dotson’s 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 Dotson’s 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 
>aren’t safe from unreasonable search and seizure 
>when you’re looking at drones.”
>Dotson said drones are not capable of anything 
>that helicopters don’t already do ­ or that 
>existing laws don’t already protect.
>“This isn’t 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.
>“We’re 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 it’s 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 didn’t go from the Model T to a 
>Porsche, there were many incremental steps along the way,” Dotson said.
>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 Quinn’s 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. “Let’s see 
>what regulations are going to be before we make 
>laws about something we can’t 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.
>“It’s 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 can’t 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.
>“We’re not going to be out in front on this 
>one,” he said. “But it’s certainly something we’re going to keep an eye on.”
>The Mesa County Sheriff’s 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 County’s 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, 
>you’re 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. “We’re 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.
>“That’s 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.
>“We’ve 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 we’re hiding a Predator drone that we got 
>from the military that’s armed with missiles 
>hiding in a hangar. But we’re so far away from that, it’s 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 don’t think I would be doing my job if I 
>wasn’t pushing this conversation.”
>Christine Byers is a crime reporter for the St. 
>Louis Post-Dispatch. Follow her on 
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Paf Dvorak

<http://thatswaytoomuch.info/>notmyname at thatswaytoomuch.info  
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