Last year, the Arlington Police Department bought a pair of teeny tiny adorable drones, which the FAA gave them the go-ahead to fly back in March. The APD was stoked, dubbing their new toys their "Aviation Unit" and issuing an FAQ about how the drones would never be used for "routine patrols and surveillance" or to pursue suspects. (Although a toy helicopter hovering above your head as you ran from the cops would have a certain level of menace. A very low level, but still.) Instead, the APD said, the drones would be used for things like "clearing major traffic accidents more quickly," assessing the damage from natural disasters, and taking photos of complex crime scenes.
But as the Texas Tribune's Emily Ramshaw reports today, this puts the APD on a potential collision course with state Representative Lance Gooden, who filed a bill this session to prevent drones from surveilling stuff indiscriminately. (The bill was co-authored by Arlington's own Bill Zedler, in a rare display of non-crazy.)
The Arlington Police are pretty sure they shouldn't be subject to that law, though, should it become a law.
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"We are working with the author of the bill to obtain an exception for law enforcement," Arlington Police Sergeant Christopher Cook told the Tribune.
The APD never mentioned that they'd like an exemption back when the bill was in committee, although someone from the Arlington Chamber of Commerce testified, as well as someone from the City of Arlington and representatives from both the Dallas and Houston police. Gooden says that in response to concerns from those local officials, he added exemptions to the bill to allow law enforcement to use drones, as the Trib says, "to document crime scenes, resolve a hostage situation or search for a missing person. Other modifications to the bill permit state authorities to use drones to survey the scene of a catastrophe, preserve public safety over a hazardous spill or assist firefighters."
So, in other words, pretty much everything that Arlington already said the drones would be used for. (The bill analysis here explains all the exemptions that have been added for law enforcement.) Yet Arlington's mayor, Robert Cluck, seems certain that the law would prohibit the drones from being used for public safety, and has made his opposition to it clear.
The lesson here: Just don't go to Arlington.