Seattle will be trading in two $40,000+ surveillance drones acquired by the police department with a 2010 federal grant. Mayor Mike McGinn made the announcement Thursday afternoon in a brief statement:
“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.”
The move comes following a week of public outcry as Wednesday’s City Council hearing provided a focal point for critics of the surveillance technology. The Council’s proposed ordinance would have banned the use of drones for general surveillance and required police to obtain a warrant before using the remote control helicopters except in emergency situations.
Last fall, we reported on the privacy concerns surrounding the Draganflyer X6 drones after the acquisition was first revealed to the public. The SPD was one of 50 organizations that received permission from the federal government to operate the unmanned aerial vehicles.
The SPD said the drones would be tightly controlled, regulated and would not be used to conduct random surveillance.
These systems are intended to help us protect public safety by gathering visual information in specific situations where sending in an officer would not be safe, or to take crime scene photography that a human being could not easily capture.
The outcry from this week’s public hearing on the drones was reminiscent of the 2010 debate over removing surveillance cameras from Cal Anderson Park.
Meanwhile, SPD has another set of cameras that could be the next target for privacy advocates. These cams suddenly appeared along Seattle’s waterfront thanks to a $5 million federal Homeland Security grant.