Numerous police agencies across the country are salivating at the opportunity to have a new militaristic toy to add to their arsenals. The hot item right now is the drone and several departments within Texas have them. A recent report in the Star Telegram, however, seems to attempt to paint the eyes-in-the-sky as harmless remote-controlled helpers rather than anything that could be potentially used to violate privacy rights.
The article is devoid of the word “drone” and instead calls the unmanned aircrafts “remote-controlled helicopters.” Steering clear of the vilified drone term could potentially help the police’s campaign to gain public confidence in their use of the machines.
The article mentions these drones (make no mistake, they are drones) will be used for “operations ranging from investigating fatal crashes on the two interstate highways that traverse the city (Arlington) to assessing damage from tornadoes and floods to helping search for missing people.” There’s no mention of crime or surveillance.
Again, to paint the drones in a positive light, the article mentions the restrictions placed on domestic police drones, including that they must stay lower than 400 feet and cannot be flown north of I-30 because of the Dallas-Fort Worth airport (though they mention the police as working with officials to change the latter restriction).
We are assured these drones will not “be in the trunks of police cars going down the road.” But, who cares how they are transported. What the people really want (and deserve) to know is the requirements for police using the drones in their primary role as law enforcers.
In many states, legislation has been passed to limit the usage of drones in surveillance, requiring warrants. While such legislation has been introduced in Texas, it hasn’t been made law.
Until then, the police have few concrete restrictions, though their use thus far is believed to be quite limited.
As nice as it would be to have police departments once again focused on serving (rather than criminalizing) the public, the ploy to convince people that police departments are purchasing drones for nothing more than natural disasters and missing persons is laughable. Police purchase toys (like drones, tanks, and weapons) to use them in the enforcement of criminal laws. And the only things standing between these militaristic “toys” and the general public is our faith in the rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
In the pursuit of criminalization, police and prosecutors will attempt to cross constitutional lines. From improper searches and seizures to questionable interrogation practices, such behavior can violate your rights. When you are accused of a crime, you need someone advocating for these rights on your behalf. Contact our offices today to discuss how we can help.