Legislation to expand law enforcement’s use of drones passed the Senate unanimously Thursday.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Tom Wright, expands the use of drones by law enforcement agencies, fire departments, state agencies, and political subdivisions.
One of the new possible drone uses would be using a drone to gain an aerial perspective of a crowd of 50 or more people.
“The idea is to be able to provide those fifty or more people with protection. To make sure that they are protected, it allows law enforcement additional time to be able to respond to what they see from the drone height if something is coming at those people,” Wright said.
The bill would also allow law enforcement to use drones for traffic management with an exception that officers may not issue traffic citations based on images captured by the drone. The drones could be used to collect evidence at a crime scene or traffic crash scene.
“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 in a committee meeting earlier in March. “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.”
At that same committee meeting, Sen. Jeff Brandes expressed concern about any continuing expansion.
“These are complicated issues that we need to watch very carefully over the next few years,” Brandes said. “As much as I believe law enforcement gets to utilize this type of technology, we need to be very careful as a Legislature how far we let this go.”
There was no debate on the bill during Thursday’s floor Session.
The bill has two House companions. One (HB 1049) has not been heard in its three assigned committees. Another (HB 433) is on its second of three committee assignments.