Connecticut’s S.B. No. 148, to allow Connecticut state police to use armed drones, has cleared the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday and heads to the House floor. Connecticut Post reports that after two years of debates at the General Assembly on legal parameters for the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones), the legislative committee has approved the bill that would regulate their use in the state by law enforcement agencies and the public. Civilian drones would be restricted to 400 feet altitude and prohibited from armaments such as guns, tear-gas canisters, and other controversial equipment under the bill; but police would be able to arm their drones.
Though the bill cleared the committee in an overwhelming vote, many key lawmakers voted against it because of their concern of a whole new dimension of deadly force, from above. The opposition includes Rep. David Labriola (R-Oxford) and Rep. Bruce Morris (D-Norwalk). Morris is concerned that the bill could lead to a wide range of discretion for the prosecution of civilians whose unarmed drones, operating correctly within the 400 feet altitude restriction, are struck by commercial aircraft.
Sen. Edwin Gomes (D-Bridgeport), who voted for the legislation, says he is worried that the armed drones would lead to violent confrontations. “We’re talking about the utilization of a weapon on a drone. I think that police are taught that once you put a weapon in their hands, they shoot to kill. It’s a weapon. If you’re going to use it, you’re going to use it to kill someone,” Gomes said. Sen. John Kissel (R-Enfield), co-chairman of the approving panel, says like the Taser or stun gun, “there are going to be different ways to utilize drones. I envision it can be used to lesser degrees.” Rep. Rosa Rebimbas (R-Naugatuck), ranking member of the committee, emphasizes that currently there are no state rules or restrictions for police use of drones.
In New York, Register-Star reports that Columbia and Greene counties have agreed to using drones to fight crimes. The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office plans to buy its first drone, DJI Inspire 2 model, using routine funding from the federal government. The drone would be used to survey large crime or accident scenes and for search-and-rescue missions. It could help with Project Lifesaver rapid-response program, which allows the sheriff’s office to track people with disabilities who are reported missing. The choice model would allow sheriff’s deputies and officers to change cameras used with the drone. Additional accessories for the drone, including a still camera, video camera, and a camera that can detect a person’s body heat, will cost around $12,000 to $13,000.
Greene County Sheriff’s Office recently purchased a drone to be used for similar situations, including search and rescue and to survey critical incidents. The drone is not in service because the Greene County Sheriff’s Office is still in the process of training pilots to operate the device. Sheriff Greg Seeley and Sheriff David Barlett of Greene and Columbia counties respectively, assure the public that the drones, when in operation, will strictly observe and record, not infringe on privacy or other personal rights.