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Joe Gruters’ drones bill floats through Criminal Justice Committee

But similar legislation never got to the floor last Session.

A proposal to let Florida law enforcement use drones for crowd control cleared its first committee Tuesday.

Sen. Joe Gruters, a Sarasota Republican, once again is championing legislation (SB 520) this year to let flying robots land on equipment inventories. The Senate Criminal Justice Committee unanimously advanced the legislation.

“Expanding the use of drones for law enforcement will create efficiencies and enhance public safety in Florida,” Gruters told Florida Politics.

Gruters told the committee members the legislation, supported by police organizations statewide, will expand the use of drones in a sensible way without violating anyone’s privacy.

For example, the law would allow law enforcement to use video drones to get an aerial perspective on crowds of 50 or more. The devices could also help gather evidence at crashes and other crime scenes.

It would also allow authorities to use drones for traffic management, but importantly would not let agencies issue tickets based on video or images captured by drones.

State and federal law continue to evolve on drone use, and a staff report on Gruters’ legislation notes a Federal Aviation Administration change this year allowing drones to be flown over large groups and at night.

Drones remain an emerging technology in the law enforcement realm. About 12 of Florida’s 67 Sheriff’s Offices currently have drones, and 32 of Florida’s 139 police agencies have made the move; another 10 departments intend to obtain them in the near future.

But across the country, law enforcement agencies continue to explore how the flying devices can be used to improve public safety.

While Gruters’ bill sailed through committee on Tuesday, it’s not the first time he’s tried to push use of drones to new heights.

Last year, his bill also cleared the Criminal Justice Committee but never landed on the Senate floor, crashing instead in the Rules Committee.

Written By

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at jacobogles@hotmail.com.

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