McGinn: Seattle police ending its unmanned drone program

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by KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on February 7, 2013 at 4:54 PM

Updated Thursday, Feb 7 at 11:36 PM

SEATTLE -- Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn announced Thursday that the police department has ended its unmanned drone program.

"Today I spoke with Seattle Police Chief John Diaz and we agreed that it was time to end the unmanned aerial vehicle program, so that SPD can focus its resources on public safety and the community building work that is the department's priority. The vehicles will be returned to the vendor," McGinn said in a released statement.

The Seattle Police Department is one of 50 organizations that received permission last year from the federal government to operate unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones.

In October 2012, the Seattle Police Department gave the public a first look at the Dragonflyer X6, the unmanned, unarmed drone police said they would use to get aerial footage of crime scenes. The public meeting was attended by vocal angry protesters, who voiced their concerns over loss of privacy if the unnamed aerial vehicles were used.

City officials were in the process of developing rules for when and where Seattle police would operate the tiny surveillance drones before the Mayor's announcement.

Proposed rules were created to address some of the concerns. Under the proposed regulations, drones would be used only for data collection and not general surveillance. Use would be for a specific target, requiring a warrant. Drones would carry no weapons. Use would have to be authorized by a sergeant, and logs of use must be maintained.

The ACLU of Washington helped to write the proposed regulations, but the privacy rights group wanted video recordings from the devices to be quickly erased.

The full Seattle City Council had planned on more discussions about the drone policies. Councilmember Bruce Harrell called Mayor McGinn's decision premature.

"I think this is the short cut, easy way out which I don't think makes a lot of sense," said Harrell who also has concerns about the $82,500 dollars in federal grant funds that were spent to obtain the drones. "I asked the Assistant Police Chief, do we get our money back? And the answer was no."

Doug Honig of the ACLU of Washington said he applauds the Mayor's decision because there were many unanswered questions about drones and people's privacy.

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