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

John A. Quayle blueoval57 at verizon.net
Thu Jul 11 14:06:56 MDT 2013

At 01:54 AM 7/11/2013, Paf Dvorak wrote:
>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?

         6-12 months, perhaps..............

>>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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