Is The Drone War Coming To North Carolina?

Mar 12, 2013

A Predator drone on a US Air Force base in 2011.
Credit US Air Force, via Wikipedia

As more domestic law enforcement agencies acquire drones, concerns are increasing about how the unmanned aerial vehicles will be used and regulated.

In North Carolina, the first drone deployment by a local agency ended badly: Gaston County’s drone malfunctioned on its debut flight several years ago and was shelved.  Now the Monroe Police Department has gotten approval from the City Council to purchase a drone using drug forfeiture funds.

“The first concern we have is a general privacy concern and how drones will be used for surveillance,” ACLU of NC Policy Director Sarah Preston said on The State of Things.  Her organization has submitted public records requests to 62 law enforcement agencies in the state, seeking information about their use of military equipment and tactics.  “In addition to that, we don’t know how police departments, but as well statewide, how these drones are being regulated.”

Monroe Police Chief Debra Duncan said the drone her department is considering is small and battery powered and could only stay in the air up to 90 minutes.  She said it would absolutely not be used for surveillance.  As examples of its possible uses Duncan cited Hazmat situations, search and rescue, and barricaded suspects.

“I understand what Sarah’s saying, and I can agree with that,” said Duncan.  “It’s cutting-edge technology. We’re just starting with it, so this is new ground for us too. And we want to make sure what we do is right.”  Duncan said there would be detailed policies in place and training of officers, and added that she’d like to work with the ACLU to craft those policies.