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Sheriff Proposes Rules for Use of Drones in Alameda County

Pledges not to arm them and to keep cameras focused on crime scenes to "minimize the inadvertent collection of data on uninvolved persons."

Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern has drafted policies covering his plans to use aerial drones in crime, fire, rescue and disaster operations.

Patch first reported on the Sheriffs' plans to use drones last October.

That prospect aroused opposition from civil libertarians who fear that drones will snoop on law-abiding citizens and shred Fourth Amendment guarantees against being searched without a warrant. 

Sheriff Ahern's plans were important enough to prompt an editorial in the New York Times warning that the rules governing the deployment of drones "should guarantee the strongest protection of privacy under what promises to be a galaxy of new eyes in the sky."

The sheriff's proposals begin with the assertion that his goal is "the safe, efficient and lawful operation" of drones or small unmanned aerial vehicles -- sUAVs as he calls them.

In the realm of protecting civil liberties the policy would:

  • set up a website to allow citizens to file concerns or complaints
  • train drone operators to focus their cameras on areas central to their missions to "minimize the inadvertent collection of data about uninvolved persons or places"
  • refrain from equipping sUAVs with weapons.

The sheriff says drones would be used for missions including:

  • collecting evidence where a warrant issued or there is probable cause of a felony being committed
  • in hostage situations, bomb threats, hazardous material spills, apprehending dangerous suspects and documenting crime scenes
  • in response to fires, natural disasters or search-and-rescue missions
  • during training operations

Just as President Obama controls the use of drones in life-and-death situations overseas, Sheriff Ahern proposes that law enforcement uses of sUAVs in Alameda County get the highest scrutiny.

"All flights will be approved in advance by the Sheriff or his/her designee (at least the rank of captain)," the policy says.

What do you think of the use of drones by law enforcement? Leave a comment below.

Donna Eyestone February 11, 2013 at 07:43 PM
I think they should use the drones to deliver Saturday mail.
Tom Schweich February 11, 2013 at 08:44 PM
I can see that drones could be helpful to a law enforcement organization. However, the civil protections, as summarized above, are so full of weasel-words I wouldn't trust them. (1) Yes we can submit complaints... but then what? What is the commitment from the Sheriff's to respond? How will they respond? Will complaints be addressed to the satisfaction of the complainant, or just to the satisfaction of the Sheriff's procedures. (2) The next clause has three weasel-words: "minimize," "inadvertent," and "uninvolved." Each one of those can be wiggled out of by the simple turn of a phrase. (3) And, finally, we're going to "refrain" from arming them???? I refrain from doing lots of unsavory things, but ... well ... you know ...if I slip ... I did refrain for a long time ... ;-) How about we say Alameda County drones will NEVER carry any weapon of any sort, no bombs, no explosives, no projectiles, no gasses, no powders, no lasers, or any other device that can inflict pain on or damage a human, an animal, or property. (4) Finally, the use of drones should require constant citizen oversight, comprised of a team of non-law enforcement people, who set policy, review usage, and can intervene in direct operations when they occur. If all four items above were met, then I would consider supporting drones for the Sheriff.
John Stashik February 12, 2013 at 05:38 AM
Stick this Alameda County story on the El Cerrito Patch. They have space to fill.
Cindy Capote February 17, 2013 at 10:49 AM
I would like to remind everyone that it is totally acceptable actually incouraged that police officers lie, mislead, misrepresent and make false statements doing their "jobs" every single day. If you dont think that is true, well then its only because you are lucky that it hasnt happened to you. Yet. Im sorry but look at this mans picture. I dont know about but I sure as hell dont want this guy outside my bedroom window spying on me or my sisters or anyone else in my family. Do you? Just because they say "oh they promise to aim it at anything there not supposed to", wanna buy a bridge, ive got one for sale?
Cynthia Powell February 24, 2013 at 07:50 AM
i thought they were

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