Drone moratorium could impact police work - NBC12 - WWBT - Richmond, VA News On Your Side

Drone moratorium could impact police work


In the moments after Trooper Walker was shot yesterday, a mad dash commenced in search of the suspect.

It was a search, aided by aircraft. That aircraft was manned, but in the near future it could be handled by un-manned aircraft, also known as drones.

A new bill just passed by the General Assembly has law enforcement concerned that the technology could be put out of reach. This bill, which the governor has yet to sign, puts a two year moratorium on the use of drones outside of a special class of emergency.

The trooper shooting would've probably qualified for the use of a drone, but law enforcement advocates claim the process is too cumbersome to be effective. 

In an emergency situation, like the hunt for a potential cop killer, decisions must be made in an instant.

"It would require time," said Jeff Jones the Executive Director of the Virginia Sheriff's Association. "Time we might not have in the event of an emergency that might be going down."

If Governor Bob McDonnell signs this bill, officers would need approval to put a drone in the air, approval that may not come quick enough.

It is one example of the complications that come with drone technology. Its benefits can be so positive, but it's potential for misuse is limitless, especially in the hands of a powerful government.

"The technology is allowing invasions of our privacy and intrusions of the government in ways that we never could've contemplated," said Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, the Executive Director of the Virginia ACLU.  She told NBC12 that last fall, before she helped craft the bill that puts the two year moratorium on the government use of the technology.

That bill now sits on Governor McDonnell's desk, and groups like the Virginia Sheriff's Association want it changed.

"We want to be there for public safety and for officer safety," said Jones.

But on the ACLU web site Gastañaga counters that law enforcement turned down the chance to help put the bill together.

She claims all her group wants is "the judicious and responsible use of" the technology. Jones agrees the issue should be studied, but is hopeful that the governor considers a short term fix.

"They are complicated legal issues that can be worked out over the two years we just want to be able to use it in emergency," he said.

An issue with no easy answer and the final call in Governor McDonnell's hands.

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