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Sheriff Wants Aerial Surveillance Drones To Patrol Alameda County

Sheriff Greg Ahern seeks a grant to make Alameda County one of the first locales in California to deploy unmanned aerial systems in civilian settings.

Sheriff Gregory Ahern is seeking a grant to purchase unmanned aerial drones to provide video and infrared surveillance in police, fire and rescue settings. 

"We're not getting this thing on Tuesday," Ahern told his advisory committee in a briefing Monday afternoon.

But the sheriff's office has already done preliminary tests of a four-pound drone that could carry a camera to provide live video or an infrared device to track the heat of bodies, fires or possibly the lights of indoor pot growing operations.

The device, which would cost $50,000 to $100,000, would be remotely controlled by an operator on the ground and hover over crime or fire scenes.

"This would be less expensive, more valuable and have more uses (than a helicopter)," said Ahern, adding that a helicopter cost $3 million buy and upwards of $300 an hour to operate.

If Ahern's plan moves forward, Alameda County would become a pioneer in the deployment of small -- and, so far, nonlethal -- versions of the drones that the military is using in Afghanistan.

The county's plans are the tip of an iceberg that Congress set in motion when it passed the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization act earlier this year.

That act required the FAA to create rules to permit the deployment of civilian drones weighing 25 pounds or less - not just for law enforcement but for any business that wants eyes in the skies.

News sources that followed the development estimate that 30,000 civilian drones could be flying U.S. skies by 2020.

The American Civil Liberties Union has criticized the move toward civilian drones.

“This bill would push the nation willy-nilly toward an era of aerial surveillance without any steps to protect the traditional privacy that Americans have always enjoyed and expected,” the ACLU has said.

The FAA is supposed to write rules governing the use of civilian drones for law enforcement by the end of 2012. At that point the county will apply for a "certificate of authorization" or a permit spelling out what sorts of uses would be permitted.

Sheriff's department officials said Alameda County could be the first jurisdiction in California to deploy drones and among the first nationwide.

Members of the sheriff's advisory committee asked Monday if the drones would be armed. They were told there no.

Li_ October 11, 2012 at 03:57 PM
Let's see the "What are all the things a drone can do for you" video that they used to inform the military buyers. We can't set up parameters if we don't know the limits of drone capability. Invading privacy would normally require a judicial warrant? I'd like to exercise my right to opt out. Surely, if students can opt out of science and human reproduction classes, there is an opt out clause for county drone coverage. Or maybe this is a good time to invent roofing material that is impervious to drone serveillance?
Senior A. Titude October 11, 2012 at 09:20 PM
My initial reaction was to get creeped-out. Watch the BBC mini-series "The Last Enemy" on Masterpiece theater to see where it can go. IF we go there, I want to see community review and publication of the flight logs on a regular basis. I'm not comfortable with the "system" reviewing itself. I am neither a conspiracy theorist nor paranoid but the potential for abuse is extreme.
Laurence Schechtman October 12, 2012 at 09:21 PM
I don't want to be watched 24/7. We need a serious campaign to defeat this insanity, and to defeat this sheriff at the polls.
joel October 13, 2012 at 01:12 AM
this is the most wastefull idea for the county , by the way what do you plan to do with commercial and private aircraft from oakland , san jose, san francisco all international airport combined with all private plane and military from travis andv onazuka tell them they can't fly . Sound like Police state to me , we are not in Afganistan , You can however fly them over the national park which have become drug heaven .
Tatter Salad October 14, 2012 at 07:40 AM
If they begin flying one at night, I bet it's 'terminated' within two weeks. I'm all for it because San Diego programmers need jobs. In Richmond and East Oakland the 'kids' are looking forward to it... they didn't buy 30-08's and AK's for nothing. ('What'd you do last night Little-E?" "I brought down $50K worth of Ghetto-bird without harming a soul"!)

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