Seattle Police To Roll Out Surveillance Drones with Infrared Cameras

Steve Watson

The Seattle Police Department plans to deploy unmanned surveillance drones over the city as it has become one of the first law enforcement agencies in the US to be granted permission by the federal government to do so.

The unmanned craft will be fitted with surveillance cameras and an infrared “eye” that can see in the dark. Officers planning to parade the drones tonight during a public presentation will display a Draganflyer X-6 drone weighing 4.5 pounds. The drone can travel up to 30 mph and can fly as high as 8,000 feet.

Privacy and civil rights concerns have been raised by the move, prompting police to issue a draft operating policy manual that states:

“…the onboard cameras will be turned … away from occupied structures, to minimize inadvertent video or still images of uninvolved persons.”

The manual also says, “All video and still images will be maintained in strict compliance with SPD policies and procedures”. It also claims that under no circumstances will the drones be used for “random surveillance.”

Seattle police previously demonstrated the drones to news crews since purchasing them last year:

The Sky Valley Chronicle, which takes issue with the drone roll out, notes that the SPD is “the same police department that last year the U.S. Justice Department found – after an 11-month probe – had engaged in “a pattern or practice of excessive force that violates the Constitution and federal law.”

“And that was with no drones in the air.” the report urges. The SPD demonstration takes place at the Garfield Community Center, 2323 E. Cherry St., tonight from 6pm. The meeting is open to the public and attendees will be able to ask questions and submit comments.

After Congress passed the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization earlier this year, requiring the FAA to permit the operation of drones weighing 25 pounds or less, observers predicted that anything up to 30,000 spy drones could be flying in U.S. skies by 2020.

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