Drones, go home: McGinn and Diaz agree to return police drones to the manufacturer
The Seattle Police Department never had the chance to deploy one of its $41,000 unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones.
Mayor Mike McGinn announced Feb. 7 that the city would return the toy-sized, camera-mounted, four-bladed helicopters to Draganflyer, which builds professional and hobby drones.
Police officials used a federal grant to purchase the devices, which proved unpopular with Seattle residents and the city council.
Speaking in the tone of scolding parents, councilmembers said they weren’t angry that SPD procured the drones without clearing it with them, just disappointed.
“First of all, don’t buy anymore,” said Councilmember Bruce Harrell.
The council tried to set rules regarding SPD’s use of the drones at the Public Safety and Civil Rights Committee Feb. 6. Eleven people came to speak out against drones, equating them with an increase in surveillance and military-style policing.
That legislation would have required SPD to obtain a warrant to use a drone and forbidden any future purchase of such tools without going through the city council.
The proposed law seems moot now. Or does it?
Legislators in Olympia introduced a bill in the House of Representatives that would prevent SPD and other law enforcement agencies from purchasing such tools without a public process and approval by city, county or state lawmakers. The state law would also require that anyone filmed by a drone be notified of the recording within 10 days.
Other cities have zoned drones out of their area. Charlottesville, Va., banned use of drones by police, and there is a proposal in Berkeley, Calif., to do the same.
Zithri Ahmed Saleem, who works with a Seattle group calling for “No Drone Zones,” applauds McGinn’s move. He adds that companies such as Draganflyer continue to market military technology for municipal use.
“It’s a much bigger conversation than drones or drones in Seattle,” Saleem said.
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