Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a new law allowing police to use drones more broadly.
The legislation (SB 44) broadens usage of drones to include traffic management, evidence collection, and crowd monitoring.
State law already allowed law enforcement to use drones under limited circumstances but had restricted use to search warrants, prisoner escapes and “imminent loss of life” situations, according to statute. 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.
The bills goes into effect on Thursday.
Jacob Ogles contributed to this report