Mayor's Office Calls Police Drones "Helpful," But Supports an Ordinance Restricting Them


A free Citizenry should never have to Choose Privacy over Fear.

But ... We're Serfs.
fly the drones over public land: only an order (yet FOIAable) by a higher ranked police officer is required.

fly the drones over privately held land: requires a court order.

yet to be sure, this is all part of how to boil a frog on our way to the Orwellian panopticon.
"helping find a kidnapped child"

What's that unarmed police drone? Timmy's caught in the well?
Would someone explain what the difference betwwen a drone and say the police force's exising helecopter or airplane? Aside from the technical aspects, i.e. manned/unmanned and cost to operate and a few other "technical" type things, the philosophical and ethical issues are essentially the same aren't they? If one has no issues with a police helecopter why would one have issues with an unmanned drone?
Can someone tell us whent it's time to go all Paris 1789 on our overlord;s asses?

Voting clearly isn't working any longer.

(my drone coordinates are in the NE corner of the Ravenna neighborhood)
I'm for arming the drones and using them to take out hipsters. Anyone with vintage clothing, heavy-rimmed glasses, or carefully trimmed facial hair is a legitimate target.
@5 I think it was around Spring of 2010, by which time it was obvious that nothing was going to be done to fix any of the fundamental problems.

Wow, a sign from Gawd: While composing the sentence above, I got spam advertising ammo designed to penetrate body armor.…
The Ravenna neighborhood! Would some home get taken out for not mowing the lawn in a timely fashion?
@8, the most common Ravenna offense is forgetting to feel guilty going to Whole Foods.
This is a sad situation - people who need the drones actually want them. Now a bunch of privileged anarchists who don't live in the high crime neighborhoods are keeping them from getting what they have been asking the SPD for for years. More surveillance. Pathetic.

Read the CD News if you don't believe me.
HMRBEAR: Two things come to mind. The first is that helicopters are obvious, while drones are not. They are inaudible and nearly invisible when in use. They present the possibility of being observed at all times when not under cover, which is unsettling to people who don't like the idea of a surveillance society.

The second is one that you listed but dismissed: cost. They're much cheaper to operate, which means that they're much more likely than heavier aircraft to be used by the police in fishing operations. In fact, with new equipment there's likely to be a drive to justify its presence and expense, so there will probably be pressure to use it in order to try to find crimes.

The fact that SPD has such a hard on for the technology should suggest to you that these things have very different capabilities and will be used in a very different way than helicopters.

For me it begs the question: do I want to see perfect enforcement of imperfect laws? I don't think drones would result in perfect enforcement, but I'm unsettled by some of the implications, and I think this kind of a change in the police force's capabilities bears more scrutiny than other police expenses like, say, more officers or armor or squad cars or helicopters.
Sounds like a good case for an initiative...
@2, the FAA has sole authority to control all airspace in the United States, public or private. The US government (note: not the city or SPD) has exclusive sovereignty. The Supreme Court has declared the navigable airspace to be a public highway.

Private land ownership does give the landowner property rights "only so much of the airspace above their property as they may reasonably use in connection with their enjoyment of the underlying land".

But yeah, I think there will need to be some more law to address the drone issue. As others have pointed out, there are few if any restrictions on where a helicopter can go within private airspace, especially since all of the law around airspace to date presumes the rights of citizens (i.e., the people in the aircraft) not unmanned machines. But I expect that additional law to come from the FAA, in accordance with…
The real issue is not whether the cops have the technology (they will, it's too cheap and effective not to) but what is admissible in court.

There could be some very useful ways to use drones, (think response to a major disaster like an earthquake) but the trends running against the 4th and 10th amendments are not encouraging in regards to law enforcement.
I dont know why people are complaining about? Its either buy a few cheap helicopter drones, fit them with better batteries for longer flight times, or spend millions on conventional helicopters.

You think this is big brother? News helicopters have been doing this for quite a long time, just move to LA if you think this is new and intrusive.

I cant trust the police anymore than I would trust the public to not overreact over this issue.
@15 and others: We're not just talking about a handful of drones, here. Imagine a drone hovering over every street corner in Seattle. At the rate this technology is progressing, that's a very reasonable possibility.

Comparing drones to helicopters in this way is like comparing city-wide CCTV to a reporter with a camcorder.
In a police state the police would buy a bunch of drones and then after getting them ready ask if they could use them. Wait...
Lead on the drone project, Lt. Greg W. Sackman #6052, supervised the brutal 2005 beating of Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes. Sam Pailca, then-director of the OPA, later found that Sackman knew at the time of the beating that the man had done nothing wrong. We're supposed to trust this monster with flying surveillance cameras which may later carry weapons?

I spoke with Sackman after the meeting Thursday. He seemed like a nice enough guy, and he seemed interested in using these drones to, say, enter a dangerous situation so his colleagues would not need to tip-toe in wearing blast suits. I had no idea at the time that he had a history of participation in violent civil liberties abuses.
From ""Police chief exonerated officers in violent arrest," by Mike Carter and Christine Clarridge, Seattle Times, June 26, 3007 (emphasis added):

Barnes and a group of friends were leaving the War Room, a bar on Capitol Hill, shortly after midnight on April 13, 2005. Outside was Seattle Police Sgt. Greg Sackman, who was on patrol there. A bouncer said he seemed "agitated" and had positioned himself directly in front of the door so people would have to walk around him as they left.

The bouncer, Tim Rhodes, later said one of Alley-Barnes' friends apparently threw a piece of paper or straw into the gutter. When the officer pointed it out to him, the friend picked it up and apologized, Rhodes said in a court deposition.

Sackman decided to detain the man, according to police reports and other court documents. It was then that Alley-Barnes went up to Sackman and complained that he was harassing his friend because the friend was black, according to several witnesses.

Sackman, in his report, said he felt threatened and called for "fast backup," meaning all officers in the area were to respond to an officer in trouble.

During this dispatch, Alley-Barnes can be heard in the background discussing "the civil rights of colored people," according to dispatch tapes and court documents.

The first officer to arrive was Brian Hunt. Sackman told Hunt to arrest Alley-Barnes, even though Alley-Barnes was walking away, Hunt later testified.

Sam Pailca, then-director of the OPA, concluded in her report that Sackman knew that Alley-Barnes had "made no threatening, hostile or aggressive moves." Pailca stated she "doubted [Alley-Barnes'] verbal challenges amounted to obstruction."

Pailca later explained in a deposition that citizens can misunderstand officer safety issues. "So officers may perceive a risk whereas many average citizens may not and certainly don't see what they're doing as interfering," she said.

Hunt grabbed Alley-Barnes in what the officer described as a wrestling maneuver called a "groin pick," where he hoisted the man by his scrotum onto the hood of a police car. Alley-Barnes later said he struggled because he was in pain. Other officers arrived, including Kevin Jones, who later said he hit Alley-Barnes as hard as he could twice in the face.

In all, reports show four officers took Alley-Barnes to the ground. According to Hunt's testimony at the criminal trial and other witnesses, Hunt kicked him several times in the head and torso while the others were holding him by his arms and legs. Later, when officers were leading the bloodied Alley-Barnes away, one can be heard on the dashboard-camera video telling him "it's because you're all mouth."

After his arrest and while he was in handcuffs at the East Precinct, Alley-Barnes later said, one of the officers smashed his face into a wall. Forensic tests found traces of blood on the wall.

One bystander who was taking photos of the Alley-Barnes arrest with his cellphone was pepper-sprayed and his phone confiscated, according to court documents.

The OPA spent nearly five months investigating the case. OPA Capt. Neil Low recommended that Sackman be disciplined for failing to perform his duties as a supervisor. He recommended Hunt be counseled by his supervisor for his use of force. Low recommended that the other two officers be exonerated.

But then-OPA Director Pailca took issue with Low's analysis of the incident. She not only found Sackman liable, but recommended to the chief that both Hunt and Jones be disciplined for excessive use of force.

Even though Hunt was directed to arrest Alley-Barnes by Sackman, "I do ... not think he is absolved of responsibility for his part in escalating the incident and his use of force was excessive," she wrote. The so-called "groin pick" was likely to result in "unnecessary pain and injury," she continued.

"In addition, though other officers were present and [Alley-Barnes] was prone, face down and not actively resisting, Hunt kicked ... from a standing position," Pailca wrote.

Likewise, Jones used excessive force when he punched Alley-Barnes "several times in the face," she concluded.

Pailca reserved her most stinging criticism for Sackman, who she said knew Alley-Barnes was not a threat and failed to communicate that to the other officers.

Kerlikowske did not take Pailca's suggestions: He exonerated Jones and Hunt of any wrongdoing. What his plans were for Sackman are not known, because the chief didn't impose discipline on the sergeant within the 180-day deadline outlined in the Seattle Police Officers' Guild contract.

A surveillance video of that arrest revealed inaccuracies in officers' reports that led the OPA's auditor to conclude they lied. Criminal charges against the drug dealer were dropped.

In the Alley-Barnes arrest on Capitol Hill, a patrol-car dashboard camera captured audio but not video. The audio revealed inconsistencies in the officers' accounts, according to court records.

Blows can be heard. A woman can be heard saying, "Oh my God!"

At one point, the 29-year-old Alley-Barnes -- an artist with no criminal record -- pleads with the officers to "please stop kicking me!"

Another voice can be heard saying, "That's way too much!"

The charges against Alley-Barnes were dismissed because the city failed to turn over the video to defense attorneys, according to court and police internal-affairs documents.

In dismissing the case, Municipal Court Judge Jean Rietschel found statements on the tape "impeach the officers' statements" because "there's nothing on the video about the alleged commands that each of the officers said were said to Mr. Alley-Barnes" -- including telling him to put his hands behind his back.

What the tape does reveal, the judge said, are "a number of very inflammatory statements made by police" about "arresting a black" and about Alley-Barnes getting in trouble because of his big mouth.

After SPD OPA found Sackman to have engaged in the above-described misconduct, he was promoted from Sergeant to Lieutenant and put in charge of SPD's drone program.

A police force that has and uses drones is not automatically a police force that has hundreds of thousands of drones following every citizen around all day. Get a grip, already.

And Phil, thanks for spamming this thread with irrelevant comments identical to the ones you posted in Brendan's writeup of your protester buddies' shenanigans.
We definitely need an initiative to ban drone use in Seattle. The SPD hasn't shown they can handle their current challenges without adding an expensive, risky new technology. First they need to learn how to consistently treat each and every citizen as humans. Maybe after several years of good behavior they can play with their toy helicopters.