Senate committee advances bill expanding police drone use

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State law currently limits police drone usage to exigent circumstances.

A Senate panel advanced legislation Tuesday that would allow law enforcement to utilize drones under broader circumstances. 

The Senate Committee on Military and Veterans Affairs, Space, and Domestic Security advanced SB 44 unanimously. Sen. Tom Wright, a New Symrna Beach Republican, is the bill sponsor. 

Currently, state law permits law enforcement to use drones under limited circumstances. According to a bill analysis, police usage is limited to search warrants, prisoner escapes and when dealing with an “imminent loss of life.” 

Wright’s proposal seeks to expand usage to include traffic management and evidence collection.

Moreover, the proposal would allow fire departments to utilize drones to survey fire, flood and natural disaster damage.

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Write told committee members the legislation could save lives. 

“It may be able to see something that you can’t see from the ground,” Wright said. “That might protect them and save their lives.”

While the proposal would broaden police usage, it also creates limitations. Among them, the bill prohibits police from using drones to issue a traffic ticket.

Proponents contend that drones are faster and more efficient than helicopters. 

Wright noted that the Volusia County Sheriff Office’s posses 33 drones, located within patrol vehicles throughout the county.

“When something goes down, a trunk can be popped and that drone can be deployed literally within a matter of a minute or two,” Wright said. “Whereas a helicopter… you’re looking at probably a response time of anywhere between 18 to 20 minutes before that piece of equipment is actually airborne.” 

Critics, meanwhile, express privacy concerns for private citizens.

Notably, the Florida Legislature has warmed to drone technology in recent years.

In 2020, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that allows non-law enforcement employees within Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to utilize the technology.

The state agency now deploys drones to detect invasive species that inhabit forests, wetlands, and wilderness.

If signed into law, Wright’s proposal would take effect July 1.

The bill moves next to the Senate Rules committee.

Jason Delgado

Jason Delgado covers news out of the state capital for Florida Politics. After a stint with the U.S. Army, Jason attended the University of Central Florida where he studied American Policy and National Security. His past bylines include WMFE-NPR and POLITICO Florida. Throw him a line at [email protected] or on Twitter at @JasonDelgadoFL.



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