Tiny drones requested
Posted: Thursday, May 3, 2012 8:00 pm
MEMPHIS (AP) — A committee of the Shelby County Commission has voted to approve the sheriff’s department buying two tiny remote-controlled drone helicopters that it hopes to use for finding missing persons, investigating traffic accidents and spotting marijuana crops.
The drones were included in the Sheriff’s Office request for other gear that also included scuba equipment.
The Commercial Appeal (http://bit.ly/JVV5tI) reported some commission members questioned the sheriff’s chief administrative officer about whether the drones could be used to look into people’s windows or backyards without a warrant.
Commissioner Brent Taylor said he understand law enforcement wants the technology to help solve crimes. “But the potential is there for abuse,” he said. “And government will abuse power if it’s given.”
Sheriff’s Lt. Perry McEwen said the drones don’t carry weapons and federal regulations say they can only weigh 4.4 pounds and can’t go higher than 400 feet or fly at night.
The operator has to keep the drone close enough to see it and video from the onboard camera can be seen by the pilot or others.
“We’re trying to do something to further the greater good of citizens,” said Chuck Fox, the sheriff’s chief administrative officer.
About 60 public and private entities across the nation have sought federal certification to fly drones, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an advocacy group for privacy and free speech.
That includes Mississippi State University, Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro and police in North Little Rock, Ark.
McEwen said flying a small drone would be more affordable in some situations than using one of the Memphis police helicopters. He said the cost to fly a drone is about $3.80 an hour compared to $600 per hour for a large helicopter.
Commissioners voted 7-3 in committee to use a $400,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to buy the drones and other equipment, but asked the sheriff’s department to propose some guidelines for using the drones.
Information from: The Commercial Appeal, http://www.commercialappeal.com
Published in The Messenger 5.03.12