Police drone bill glides through House
Escambia County Sheriff's Office is ready to spread its wings and fly (drones).

drones 02.06.16 (Large)
Critics voiced privacy concerns.

The House on Monday passed a bill that would allow police to use drones more broadly.

The House passed the bill (SB 44) with an 88-24 vote. Republican Sen. Tom Wright is the bill sponsor.

Currently, state law allows law enforcement to use drones under limited circumstances. Use is restricted to search warrants, prisoner escapes, and “imminent loss of life” situations, according to statute.

The proposal, however, would broaden usage to include traffic management, evidence collection, and crowd monitoring.

Fire departments could also utilize drones to survey fire, flood and natural disaster damage under the measure.

Proponents, including police and sheriff associations, contend drones are safer, faster and more efficient than manned helicopters. Republican Rep. Mike Giallombardo, the House companion bill sponsor, estimated helicopters can cost taxpayers up to $1,200 an hour.

Critics, meanwhile, voiced privacy concerns.

Democratic Rep. Omari Hardy described the bill as a step toward a “police state.”

“When there’s a police helicopter in the sky, you know it,” Hardy said. “The whole neighborhood knows it. But when there’s a drone in the sky, unless it’s right above you, it’s not clear to you that one is there unless you’re looking for it and I’m concerned about the dramatic increase in capability.”

He further lamented that the bill is without statewide operational “safeguards.”

“No agency should be making its own policies and procedures with respect to how these drones are used,” Hardy added.

The ACLU of Florida is among the bill opponents. They described the bill as a slippery slope for civil liberties.

Giallombardo, meanwhile, defended the technology.

“We can’t keep them back in the stone age and expect them to do a job that is frankly thankless,” Giallombardo said.

If signed into law, the bill would take effect 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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