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Drones Among Us: Florida Police Want Video Surveillance Power Over Big Sports Events

| February 7, 2013

Florida police want to be able to fly drones over big events where large crowds gather. Civil libertarians are recoiling. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Scott L. Tomaszycki)

Florida police want to be able to fly drones over big events where large crowds gather. Civil libertarians are recoiling. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Scott L. Tomaszycki)

Lawmakers and police continued to wrangle Wednesday over when law enforcement should be allowed to use unmanned drones, trying to settle on where the tipping point is on the balance scale of liberty and public safety.

The chief advocate in the Legislature for what originally was envisioned as a hard ban on police use of the remote control aircraft has already compromised to allow exceptions, including situations where police get a warrant, or where there’s an imminent risk of something like a terrorist attack.

But bill sponsor Sen. Joe Negron and police couldn’t agree Wednesday on the use of drones as extra eyes in the sky at large-crowd events, such as a football game.

Capt. Michael Fewless of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office told the Senate Community Affairs Committee that police would like to be able to use drones to videotape big events like college bowl games, where there is no expectation of privacy.

“If there was a problem and the drone is flying, and the crowd starts to scatter, any evidence that’s caught on that drone, on that camera, cannot be used as evidence,” Fewless said. “So if we have somebody in there with the crowd scattering – their child gets grabbed by somebody else and they take off in a different direction – even though we now have the suspect on video, we cannot use the drone evidence under this current language. And we don’t want that.”

But Negron, R-Stuart, said monitoring crowds goes too far – and that he’d vote against his own bill (SB 92) if it were changed to allow that.

“Can you imagine if King George had sent a drone to hover over the Boston Tea Party to see what the American patriots were up to?” he asked committee members. “It’s not what this country was founded on.”

The measure, without any changes to allow crowd control, was approved unanimously, but has three remaining committee hearings before a floor vote. And several lawmakers asked Negron to consider further changes.

“Yes, we have a responsibility to protect liberty, said Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg. “But we also have a responsibility to protect lives.”


Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, asked if law enforcement officers could gather evidence in a large crowd situation in another way, such as from a helicopter.

Fewless said yes. “But it does appear to me to be a slippery slope when you start saying we can’t use it for a drone that’s much cheaper for an agency to operate compared to a helicopter that’s much more expensive to operate,” he said.

“Protecting liberty is a slippery slope,” Thrasher replied. “And I think that’s what Sen. Negron’s bill is trying to do.”

The drones cost about $50,000 apiece, according to Fewless, and require only the cost of gas, compared to $400 an hour to operate a helicopter. The Orange County Sheriff’s Office has two drones and three helicopters.

Police in Miami also have drones, although so far their use has been limited. Negron said he wants to protect what he considers the right of Floridians against unreasonable search and seizure before the use of drones becomes “ubiquitous.”

Latvala said he’d like to see the drones used for surveillance of marijuana grow fields, but Negron said that could be done with a regular search warrant.

Florida would be the first state to pass such a ban on the use of unmanned aircraft by police, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which supports Negron’s bill.

A House companion bill (HB 119) by Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, comes up Thursday for the first time in the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee.

–Margie Menzel, News Service of Florida

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17 Responses for “Drones Among Us: Florida Police Want Video Surveillance Power Over Big Sports Events”

  1. NortonSmitty says:

    Once they get this “Right” to use them just to watch us without our knowledge (Doesn’t that alone creep you out?), how long before the mission creeps up to arming them to use against American citizens? They already have advanced optics and facial recognition software that can Identify you, run your ever-expanding file of information the security state holds on you and decide your fate. What’s to stop it from taking you out? Nothing according to the memorandum released on Executive drone privilege released last week. As I’m sure Sen. Jack Latvala would say, “If it saves just one life…”

    We’re all Pakistani now.

  2. another voice says:

    No.

  3. Magnolia says:

    “At what price Liberty?” Get OUT of my life, government.

  4. Sgt Saber says:

    Seems the only way this government is going to get the message” We the People” are tired of our liberties and privacy being invaded is to TARGET these drones. OPEN SEASON is here !!!!!!

  5. Thomas says:

    First one to shoot one down will become an American Patriot Hero.

    • NortonSmitty says:

      You would think so, but the truth is first person to even shoot at one will be a Domestic Terrorist and get a Hellfire missile followed by a whole lot of SWAT at his door. And if he survives that, he will be jailed for life as an example.

      • Jim R. says:

        Exactly right, but millions of Americans think the second amendment gives them the power to fight against the govt. what a joke. The majority of Americans approve of anything the govt does, including assassination and torture of anyone who opposes our presence in their countries, and who shall now and forever after be known as “Terrorists” They will also approve of labeling any American who protests the actions of the govt. as a “Domestic Terrorist” and would no doubt applaud their assassination and torture. Good Americans, just like the Good Germans did, will continue to think that they live in a Democracy and are free, until it is to late to do anything about it.

  6. Sherry Epley says:

    GO ACLU!

  7. J. Velten says:

    This is a huge mistake. As the We all know by now, the use of drone overseas has become normal and is all well a good to take out terrorists. However, now they are targeting Americans, without due process. All that is needed is a suspicion of being linked to a terrorist group or association. This is very vague and could easily be interpreted for use over US soil. With the current state of the union a civil disturbance on a large scale is possible. People protesting there rights to the powers that be. It is not a very long reach to assume that this same group of American citizens expressing their rights, under our constitution, are labeled as a threat to national security. That is all it would take for a government official to give the order to have that drone(s) use lethal force. It is highly unlikely, I hope, but still offeres a hint of potential. I urge you to ban any drone use over Flridian air space. if things do go south, then I’m sure the government will have enough drones flying around over head. Lets be smart about this and look at the bigger picture here.

    • Josh Brown says:

      You should really check your facts. Saying overseas drone strikes are “targeting Americans” is the same as saying Usama bin Laden was an “American”. Anyone, no matter their birth origin, who posses a deadly threat to our nation and it’s allies is a combative and is met with such response. Expressing ones self is not whom drone strikes are after overseas. Drones seek those who take part in the enemy giving haven to those who seek to do harm. Frankly by your logic you are saying that the American lives lost on September 11th 2001 was ok. Because the person responsible for incouraging the thwarted attempt to detonate a bomb in times square, as well as the person responsible for movtivating the underwear bomber who tried detonating an airliner over Detroit is an American-born Muslim Cleric who denounced his citizenship.

      The drones used over Floridian air space can not even carry weaponized payloads as they are handheld size drones, not the combative models the size of planes.

  8. Josh Brown says:

    The ignorance of some of your comments is pretty sad! People all seem to think that the use of drones is an “invasion of privacy”, but the moment a problem arises demand action and wonder why more was not done. The use of drones is something that is highly functional as well as systemic. So thinking that drones are magically going to watch random homes is ridiculous. Drone programs are detailed with flight plans. Saying they are a problem would be the same as telling a medevac helicoptor that they can not fly. Also drone coverage has already shown to be statistically useful in lowering crimes as criminals are less likely to conduct activites knowing that drone are in the air.

    And for those who are making uneducated comments about weaponized drones, just goes to show the level of unenlightenment. The drones which utilize armament are the size of small planes up to jet fighter sizes and cost millions of dollars, meanwhile the drones while are used to aid law enforcement are handheld and cost several thousand dollars. Fiscally this saves taxpayers money of many levels. Folks please educate yourseleves because there are things which can help save the lives of law enforcement officers as well as innocent lives in general. If any tool can help find/stop criminals and predators of our communities then it must be looked into for use.

    • Jim R. says:

      It’s not the legitimate use of drones that is worrisome, it’s the misuse, like with tasers , if they have it someone will always misuse it.
      When Obama uses Drones for targeted killings does he ever think about blow-back ? The drone technology is not that complicated , soon everybody will have them , including those we call terrorists.

    • NortonSmitty says:

      Josh, I’m calling Caca del Toro on you. Just where did you get the ‘stats that drone use deters crime when no agency will eve3n admit using drones on American soil except for one shopworn sheep-rustling case in North Dakota?

      Please educate your own self before you preach to us about how harmless this new weapon will be in the hands of our Government. They have never had a weapon they could use on the public that has never been utilized more frequently for less and less from the initial argument. Tasers?Bean-Bag Shotguns? Traffic Light Cameras or anything. But you think this will be different?

      Mind if I fight against this until we’re sure?

    • Adams says:

      Our founders did not want a “democracy” for they feared a true democracy was just as dangerous as a monarchy. The founders were highly educated people who were experienced in defending themselves against tyranny. They understood that the constitution could protect the people by limiting the power of anyone to work outside of it much better than a pure system of popularity. A system of checks and balances was set up to help limit corruption of government and also the potential for an “immoral majority” developing within the American People. We have forgotten in this country that we are ultimately ruled by a constitution.

  9. m&m says:

    Sherry, one of the reasons we have them is because of the ACLU.. If you’re a law biding citizen you should’nt have to worry about them..

  10. Sherry Epley says:

    Not to confuse anyone with actual facts. . . here is a link to a paper outlining the position of the ACLU on domestic drones: http://www.aclu.org/files/assets/protectingprivacyfromaerialsurveillance.pdf They want strict controls!

    I am a law obiding citizen who requires the officials at any level of government to respect my rights to privacy and to due process under the law. I refuse to hand over my rights simply because of fear mongering from any source.

  11. Mel Bronson says:

    Wouldn’t the drones be put to higher and best use by doing surveillance of drivers running red lights or picking their nose in Palm Coast?

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