Michigan State Police have received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to operate unmanned aerial vehicles throughout the state.
On Monday, state police announced they received FAA authorization to use drones to assist local police units, making them the first law enforcement agency in the nation to obtain statewide approval.
“Potential missions include search and rescue, crime scene and crash investigations,” police claimed in a statement.
The state had purchased their $158,000 Aeryon SkyRanger, equipped with advanced optics and touchscreen navigation, back in September 2013 with a grant from the US Department of Homeland Security.
Police say they actually received FAA authorization on Feb. 25, and have already used the drone to help investigate the cause of a fire near the Grand Rapids area.
Police excitedly claim the aerial surveillance gear will increase public safety.
“I personally think it’s going to change how we do law enforcement,” Michigan State Police 1st Lt. Chris Bush expressed to The Detroit News earlier this year. “The quicker we can get accidents cleared, to me that’s a gamechanger for how we do law enforcement.”
But privacy advocates for years have been concerned with drone use by law enforcement, citing apprehension over domestic surveillance and the possibility that drones will someday be armed.
A report from the ACLU in 2011 detailed the organization’s contention with government drone use, claiming the technology’s powerful surveillance capabilities made them a threat to personal privacy and that the use of UAVs is ultimately unconstitutional.
“With drone technology holding so much potential to increase routine surveillance in American life, one key question is the extent to which our laws will protect us. The courts should impose limits on the use of drones for surveillance, prohibiting them from becoming pervasive,” the organization recommended.
Concerns over privacy, however, have been overshadowed by the purported need for increased security.
According to The Detroit News, “Michigan State Police officials envision eventually having multiple drones stationed around the state for emergency response.”
Per the FAA, Michigan State Police drone pilots must abide by the following restrictions:
• The drone must always be flown by a two-person crew, with one acting as the pilot and the other as a safety observer.
• The pilot must be FAA certified.
• The unmanned aircraft system must remain below 400 feet and always be within line of sight of the crew.
• It can’t be flown near airports.
In the past, federal authorities have used surveillance drones to spy on farmers and cattle ranchers, ostensibly claiming they were monitoring pollution and land use. The feds also used drones to spy on a North Dakota family during a SWAT standoff in 2011 after six cows had wandered onto the family’s property.
An investigation in 2013 also found that the Federal Bureau of Investigations has spent more than $3 million using drones domestically since 2006.