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Mayor kills Seattle police aerial drone program

droneSEATTLE — The Seattle Police Department’s controversial plan to fly unmanned aerial surveillance drones over the city is over.

The department acquired two drones in 2010 and hoped to use them as crime-fighting tools. But, on Thursday, Mayor Mike McGinn pulled the plug.

“Today I spoke with Seattle Police Chief John Diaz and we agreed that it was time to end the unmanned aerial vehicle program, so that SPD can focus its resources on public safety and the community-building work that is the department’s priority,” McGinn said in a written statement. “The vehicles will be returned to the vendor.”

The idea of surveillance drones had been a public relations headache for the city.

“I don’t see us picking up on this in the near future,” McGinn said.

The program’s termination came less than 24 hours after angry residents spoke out about the drones at a City Council committee hearing.

“You cannot use those. That is illegal, against the U.S. Constitution. You should be banning these,” an angry Seattle resident told members of the City Council’s Public Safety, Civil Rights and Technology Committee during a hearing Wednesday night on drafting regulations and rules for use of the drones.

He was one of 11 speakers at the committee hearing who opposed the use of aerial surveillance drones.

From the beginning, the American Civil Liberties Union said the drone program would be an unprecedented invasion of privacy.

“The mayor wisely realized that the case was made, that these were not necessary for public safety, and questions about privacy were not answered,” said Doug Honig of the ACLU.

Committee Chairman Bruce Harrell, who is running for mayor against McGinn, said scrapping drones without further talks was a bad move.

“What the mayor demonstrated today was he has no plan; you don’t apply all this effort, apply for federal funds, and scrap it arbitrarily,” said Harrell.

Harrell, who noted he hadn’t been an avid supporter of the police department’s plan for the drones, said he was at least willing to talk about the restricted use of drones in certain circumstances.

“Imagine if we do have a terrorist situation and we didn’t have access to a helicopter and only a drone can save someone,” said Harrell.

“I heard the concerns, and the pros and cons of the program, but ultimately this is just not a priority for the department right now, and a lot of time and resources were going into dealing with these issues,” McGinn said.

The two drones cost more than $82,500. The city used a federal grant from the Department of Homeland Security to obtain them. McGinn said the drones will be returned to the vendor, but Harrell said he was told the money is nonrefundable.

34 comments

  • pissed off

    no go. SPD has long proven they cannot be trusted to follow all the rules. They are under federal review, there is also a committee to verify that SPD's excessive force altecaions.

    i think they have proven time and time again, that we cant trust them

  • guest

    Unless you have something to hide, what does it matter? How would it be abused against you if you aren't doing anything wrong? Obviously we wouldn't want them in Rainier valley cause then they would see who is shooting who.

    • Guest

      Why should I be watched if I am not doing anything wrong? Washington State has huge tendencies to start small and increase the role of police (i.e.: seat belts and cell phones car laws started as a secondary offense, changed almost immediately to a 1st offense once they realized how much money they can take from you, tolling only the 520 bridge, another lie the state has long term plans to toll every major road in the region as became evident this past week). Every law created for our safety is simply a law to transfer money from you to government, decrease our freedoms or the state to gain more power. The thought of our government watching me creeps me out and it should you to.

    • dhsea

      So you're out in the back yard having a beer, it comes over your house, your health insurance get's cancelled because of your pre-existing drinking problem … don't think it can't happen.

    • Rachael

      I have nothing to hide, but I would still prefer that the police and or government keep their nose out of my business. There are plenty of people committing dangerous crime right out in the open that they can focus their energy on.

  • jezzy

    Why is this even a discussion. Us as a community have decided that we do not want the drones. So unless we get our way we will not cooperate with the spd in this matter. We are spd’s greatest hurdle in this because we have more say and more votes in this then they do and that scares the hell out of them. We as a nation need to seriously stand up and say “no, we dont want those pieces if crap in our sky”. One voice , one nation.

  • jezzy

    This following message was left by a rich person. This is why we dont let the % 1 vote on stuff because they dont give a crap about us %99 . Heres the message. ….. Unless you have something to hide, what does it matter? How would it be abused against you if you aren’t doing anything wrong? Obviously we wouldn’t want them in Rainier valley cause then they would see who is shooting who.Read more at http://q13fox.com/2013/02/06/spd-on-use-of-drones/#6SWoydLu46FeeVbu.99 Read more: http://q13fox.com/2013/02/06/spd-on-use-of-drones/#ixzz2KEUbHMvO

  • Block Watcher

    I can see how this device would be very helpful during a search or surveillance in rough terrain or a hostage situation. Stationary cameras are being installed all over the Seattle waterfront too.

  • Todd

    No to drones. We don't need any big brother tactics used on US citizens. This is a complete violation of our civil rights and this needs to be stopped NOW.

  • guest

    "The vehicles will be returned to the vendor." How much is this screw up costing and who is paying for it? I doubt the vendor is giving 100% refund. Mcginn should pay any difference himself.

    • Josh

      The article specifically states that the vendor is not giving a refund…why the hell didn't the city just sell these drones back to some other locality that needs search and rescue equipment? Stupid city managers thing they have a money tree!!

  • av8tr

    Big Brother. The acronym COPs came from the term Constable on Patrol. Maybe we should change it to DOPES (Drones On Patrol for Everyday by Snooping). Those of you that don't have a problem with this won't be bothered by me flying my camera equipped remote helicopter around you house right?

    • DCAL

      That is one theory about where the term COPs came from. Another theory is the term was coined because of the copper badges they wore back in the day.

  • Jimmy Joe

    These could be used in criminal investigation, (city hall) and surveillance in remote areas. To put these on the shelf and forget them is another waste of resources and money. It sounds like an idea from the demonic party. Criminals get a break; responsible tax-paying citizens are told to pay higher taxes and shut up. I wonder if the mayor, and his cronies are worried the drones might be used to catch them up to no good and want to limit their exposure?

  • Josh

    less than 1 minute ago
    The article specifically states that the vendor is not giving a refund…why the hell didn't the city just sell these drones back to some other locality that needs search and rescue equipment? Stupid city managers thing they have a money tree!!

  • f4xtrafn

    Cops patrol and watch all the time from both patrol cars and the air and security cameras take dozens of videos of us all the time – and we complain when killers and rapists get away. Some cities have constantly monitored security veo 24/7 and citizens love it. The whiners on here are afraid that if they one day decide to commit a crime they'll be caught too easily. I don't have anything to hide – apparantly a lot of clowns on this site do.

  • Anonymous

    The article says that Committee Chairman Bruce Harrell said he ” was told the money is nonrefundable.” That’s hardly definitive. Were I a citizen there in Seattle, I would start having the police rip down those cameras along the waterfront unless there’s some definitive reason to have them.

    I am, by no means, an anarchist but we need to reverse the trend toward a state police system in the US. Indefinite detention, surveillance everywhere, forfeitures, commercially run prisons, stop-and-frisk, etc. When will people wake up? “1984” and “Animal Farm” here we come….

  • DCAL

    I really don't see how an unmanned drone is any different than a manned helicopter. They are much cheaper and accomplish the same thing. A fully equipped helicopter can cost up to $3 Million (maybe more depending on year/model), not to mention the cost of flying them. People's issue seems to be because it is the police using them…nothing more. I guess it really doesnt matter since the program was scrapped.

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