SPOKANE, Wash. - In a 5-2 vote on Monday, the Spokane City Council passed a resolution giving the Spokane Police Department the authorization to use drones on some of their investigations. Drones are being increasingly used by law enforcement agencies across the nation.
"We don't want our citizens to think this is an overreach or that we are spying on them," said Spokane Police Public Information Officer, Teresa Fuller, "we are going to have specific rules and policies in place for use of the equipment."
The resolution outlines that police can only use drones in the following situations.
1) Crime scene investigations
2) Searches for missing people
3) Locating previously reported campsites
4) Observing barricaded who are reasonably suspected to have a weapon
5) Observing suicidal individuals with immediate access to self-harm
6) Observing or planning the service of existing high-risk search warrants
7) Observing the scene of a reported active shooter
8) Observing a person fleeing hot pursuit by law enforcement
9) Observing the apprehension of high-risk violent offenders
10) Observing suspected explosives or improvised explosive devices
The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington told KXLY they were concerned about the vagueness of the resolution and see it as opening the door to police abuse.
"This resolution doesn't do anything to say when they have to get a warrant, so I think there will be a lot of warrant-less flyovers," said ACLU of Washington Technology and Liberty Project Director, Shankar Narayan. "They should have said they can only be used with a warrant in limited circumstances.
The police department says they will abide by the listed situations, and will use the best resources and materials from other agencies that have successfully used drones to enhance their use. They say the implications for public safety, and their own safety with the use of drones are huge.
"To be able to put a drone in the air, that is equipment," said Fuller, "if that gets shot down, its just a piece of property instead of putting our officers in harms way. It will help us get vital information."
She said drones will help with man power limitations, in circumstances like missing children calls, that they will help the department cover more ground, more quickly.
"Its going to be a learning thing for us, but we want to ensure that our citizens that it is for their safety as well as ours," she said.
The ACLU of Washington says the rules need to be clear and straightforward before it all goes into place, something that they say isn't happening here.
"Once law enforcement gets these tools, there are temptations to use them in more situations," said Nanarayan," its a level of surveillance that you didn't sign up for."
He says for those looking to challenge warrant-less flyovers, it may be difficult because you may not realize when you are being filmed.
"You can't simply rely on constitutional law to fill in the gaps," he said, "if you are being surveilled by drones, you may not even know. Ultimately, it comes down to the good will of the police."
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