Aerial Drones Could Patrol Sacramento Skies

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(Sacramento, CA)
Friday, December 7, 2007

Look!  Up in the sky!  It’s a bird!   It’s a plane!  It’s ... well, it’s kind of a plane.  But it’s tiny – just five feet long, with a 7-foot wingspan, weighing only 12 pounds.  It’s unmanned – flown by remote control.  And this white aircraft with neon orange trim has … a video camera.
Najera: “The applications of this device are just absolutely mind-boggling.” 
Sacramento Police Chief Albert Najera says the drones and cheaper and quieter than helicopters.
Najera: “If you can envision us dispatching actually an aircraft like this to any kind of a crime in progress – whether it’s a robbery at a store or a bank, a home invasion robbery, a prowler at a house – we can launch this aircraft, have it respond to that area and start sending video back.” 
Najera says that could give police officers a heads-up before they arrive, and help them track a suspect down as he or she fled the scene.  And in the future, he says, who knows?
Of course, that’s exactly what Nicole Ozer is worried about.  She’s a technology and civil liberties expert with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California.
Ozer: “The decisions about whether to use drones to zoom in on the private details of our lives – monitoring and recording who we might be talking to and telling goodbye, the political rally or gun show we’re attending – really can’t be left to the whim and the brainstorming of the police department.” 
Ozer says residents should contact local officials and call for a public discussion.  That’s fine with Chief Najera.
Najera: “And it needs to be a public discussion about, okay, how safe do we want to be?  Are we willing to give up a little bit of our privacy here, and how much is a little bit? And when is it? And how is it used?” 
Sacramento will have to get the federal government’s permission before it can test its drone.  That process will take three to four months.  The Houston and Miami-Dade police departments are already working with the FAA on a pilot program.