HOWARD COUNTY, Md. (WJZ) — Five months after the Howard County Police Department created a workgroup to entertain the idea of using drones in police operations, the agency is set to buy three drones for a one-year field test.

Howard County Police Chief Lisa Myers said that over the next year, her department will start to test drones to assist with investigations to help police work faster and make communities here safer.

“We would be able to launch drones from our vehicle and they could arrive on the location of missing citizens in the county or critical incidents within minutes,” Myers said.

It will start with three drones taking flight around the county. They will be deployed within the next six to eight months.

The workgroup looked at whether using drones would be useful, how it would affect transparency, training and privacy issues.

“Law enforcement agencies across the nation have adopted aerial drones for a variety of uses, like locating lost children and seniors, providing real-time information in crisis situations, reaching remote crime scenes, and aiding search-and-rescue operations,” Myers said. “We are taking a measured approach to using the technology with three drones to start the year-long field test.”

The HCPD said it will follow guidelines from the ACLU to make sure the drones work with the community without privacy concerns.

They plan to use the drones in situations when “life and safety are at risk, or when there are specific and articulable grounds to believe that the drone will collect evidence relating to criminal activity,”

They added it will not be used for mass surveillance that could violate the First Amendment.

Some area residents said they still had reservations about the program.

“As long as they don’t share what they get to the public and only in situations to keep officers out of harm’s way, I think it would be a good idea,” county resident Scott Witschey said.

Another resident expressed concerns about the accuracy of the video collected.

The drones will cost $38,400 altogether. The images collected will not be kept unless there is reasonable suspicion that they have evidence of criminal activity or relate to an ongoing investigation or trial. All other images will be deleted, the department said.

The test will start with up to 10 officers. They will be trained and certified remote pilots as required by the FAA.

The drones should be deployed within the next six to eight weeks.

Stetson Miller

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