Bill promoting drones for law enforcement clears hurdle

Photo courtesy Annija Sterling

Dronesare part of a Florida bill that will allow law enforcement to use the unmanned aircrafts.

Earlier this month, the Florida Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee discussed Senate Bill 44, which will expand drone use to assist with crime scene information, traffic management, flood and natural disaster damage, and fire department personnel tasks. The bill previously was approved by the Military and Veteran Affairs, Space, and Domestic Security Committee.

Bill sponsor, Sen. Tom Wright, a Republican who represents parts of Brevard and Volushia counties, provided an overview and clarity on the work that is set to happen.

“The drones will give an aerial view of scenes and can sometimes provide a better look of using the FLIR that is on the drone for heat protection. The drones will also be able to look at the scene from a higher elevation. We must ensure our laws are kept up to date to enhance our state’s public safety,” Wright said.

The bill received multiple concerns, mostly focusing on privacy rights. Niyah Lewis, a student and civil rights advocate, had concerns about the bill, especially considering the act of free speech.

“This bill is a direct violation of free speech and privacy. The use of drones on civilians should be strictly prohibited. What we are seeing currently is that the government is using technology to target minority people for arrests,” Lewis said. “The use of military technology on civilians should in theory be prohibited. We have seen time and time again how these technologies and strategies that are theoretically used to ‘catch criminals’ are costing minority people their lives.”

On the other hand, Sen. Victor M. Torres, Jr., a Democrat who serves District-15, is thrilled about the bill.

“This is an asset to both the sheriff’s and police departments and fire departments. Especially in the evening hours when it is nightfall to have the drone assess the situation as law enforcement is responding to the location,” Torres said. “I think it is always necessary because if a shootout or fire was occurring it is necessary to see what and who is out there, especially with the lives of the officers and firefighters responding. It’s an asset because there won’t be a situation where they can get trapped and the loss of their lives will be detrimental to them.”

Wright said the safety of law enforcement officers and the firefighters is the main reason that he sponsored the bill. This equipment might be able to see something that someone can’t see from the ground that will protect them and save their lives.

If the law enforcement agency does not comply with these instructions and violates the law, then the evidence would be negated, Wright added.