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Drones may be joining a police force near you

By Richard Piatt | Posted - Apr 25th, 2013 @ 8:58pm

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OGDEN — They are controversial overseas, but what about here in Utah? Could drones armed with cameras instead of missiles be coming to help local law enforcement?

The answer is yes. Several police departments are looking into the idea of using drones as crime-and-life saving tools. They're hoping to use them just as the military has been using drones for years.

They machines themselves look like sophisticated toys: able to soar hundreds of feet in the air at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour. Equipped with cameras, they can transmit their eagle-eye view back to whomever is controlling them.

Dustin Black of Up-Close Aerial Video uses a drone to survey real estate, create wedding videos and more.

"Even though you've flown it a hundred times, every time you take it off it's like, ‘Oh!' (It) gives you that excitement," Black said.

But in Utah and across the nation, law enforcement has a different idea about the high-flying whirlybirds. Weber County Sheriff Terry Thompson sees potential to fight more crime and save more lives.

"Anytime we can get an up-close look at particularly a dangerous situation without putting people in harm's way, that's always worth looking into," Thompson said.

The law enforcement potential for drones is mulch-faceted, but there are a lot of serious questions about the use of drones: privacy and security questions have to be addressed in both state and local laws.

While several states are considering restrictions on drone use, only Idaho and Virginia have laws on the books. And privacy concerns are not a small matter to the American Civil Liberties Union.

"This is a free country, and we should not expect the government should be peering into our lives — whether we're doing something right, or maybe not … doing something right," said John Mejia, legal director for the ACLU of Utah.

There are practical matters for those kinds of drones too: they cost between $1,000 and $2,500 each, and their battery life is limited. Still, both are issues that probably won't stand in the way of their use nationwide.


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