Senate bill seeks to broaden police, state agency use of drones

Polar Force 20-1
Similar legislation failed in the past over privacy concerns.

New Smyrna Beach Sen. Tom Wright filed a bill Monday that would allow law enforcement to utilize drones to manage traffic, collect evidence from crime scenes and monitor crowds of 50 or more.

The bill (SB 44) would also allow state agencies and fire departments to use drones to survey fire, flood and natural disaster damage.

Currently, a 2013 state law largely bars law enforcement from using drone technology without a judge’s consent.

According to the statute, drone usage by police may be approved to “counter a high risk of a terrorist attack by a specific individual or organization if the United States Secretary of Homeland Security determines that credible intelligence indicates that there is such a risk.”

While the measure would mark a major milestone for law enforcement if passed, SB 44 would leave certain limitations untouched. Among them, the bill would prohibit law enforcement from using drones to issue a traffic ticket.

Notably, SB 44 is not the first time a lawmaker has taken a crack at the 2013 law.

Sarasota Republican Sen. Joe Gruters filed similar legislation in the 2020 Legislative Session. The bill drew privacy concerns from some lawmakers and died in the Rules Committee.

Nationwide, drones remain an emerging technology in the law enforcement realm. As of November 2019, roughly 12 of Florida’s 67 Sheriff’s Offices and 32 of the state’s 139 police agencies own drones; another 10 departments intend to obtain them in the near future.

While law enforcement agencies continue to explore how the flying devices can be used to improve public safety, Florida in 2020 permitted non-law enforcement Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission employees to fly drones.

HB 659, sponsored by Jacksonville Republican Rep. Jason Fischer, allows FWC to use drones over swamps and other people-free places where invasive species like pythons and other nuisances have proved problematic. Wildlife and forestry officials now use drones to track pythons, lygodium and other invasive species inhabiting Florida’s forests, wetlands, and wilderness spaces.

If passed, SB 44 would take effect on July 1.

Jason Delgado

Jason Delgado covers news out of the Florida State Capitol. After a go with the U.S. Army, the Orlando-native attended the University of Central Florida and earned a degree in American Policy and National Security. His past bylines include WMFE-NPR and POLITICO Florida. He'd love to hear from you. You can reach Jason by email ([email protected]) or on Twitter at @byJasonDelgado.


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