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Many Consider Police Drone Use An Invasion Of Privacy

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WJZ general assignment reporter Mike Hellgren came to Maryland's News...
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BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Police are increasingly using drones in high risk situations but some fear a loss of privacy and say law enforcement is going too far.

Mike Hellgren has more on how police departments in Maryland are handling drone use.

Many police agencies believe that for high risk situations—including standoffs and car accidents—drones with cameras can be useful tools.

“We may send this over to see where they’re at, especially if they’ve got a gun. I mean, I don’t want to see this get shot out of the air but I’d rather have that than an officer shot,” said an official.

A growing number of police departments in more than a dozen states are using drones and while several in Maryland are considering it, none use drones—for now.

Baltimore County’s police chief says he’s concerned about drones invading people’s privacy and his department has no plans to get a drone in the foreseeable future.

In a WJZ investigation into drone use in Maryland, the ACLU says it, too, has strong concerns about the violation of privacy.

“That is completely incompatible with a free society and I think poses real dangers and is a real possibility unless we act to prevent it,” said David Rocah.

A drone-police controversy is playing out right now in Los Angeles, where protests erupted over possible law enforcement use.

“We do not want LAPD to use drones in Los Angeles in any capacity whatsoever,” said Xander Snyder, Restore the Fourth.

Drones could also be used to catch speeders and gather intelligence during police raids—all of it monitored remotely.

Right now, though, law enforcement drone use is still in its infancy with police needing written approval from the Federal Aviation Administration—and even then, they have tight rules, including that police drones can only be flown in daylight.

While Maryland law enforcement has not embraced the technology, some experts believe all that will take is time.

“There’s no stopping this technology. Anyone who thinks they can put this technology back in the box, that’s silliness,” said drone expert Peter Singer.

In Mexico, several police agencies are using drones to monitor high-crime areas. They often fly higher than the 400 foot limit that the FAA set for police drones in the US.

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