Should Philly Police Use Drones to Fight Crime?

Councilman David Oh raised that question at a budget hearing. He says police-operated drones could possibly save the city money.

Photos by City Council's Flickr and

Photos by City Council’s Flickr and

Should the Philadelphia Police Department use drones as a crime-fighting tool?

Councilman David Oh raised that intriguing — and controversial — question at a budget hearing on Wednesday.

“Can I ask you your thoughts on police drone-using?” Oh asked Police Commissioner Richard Ross. “On whether that is something that would or would not work, or raises concerns?”

Oh explained that he believes the city will eventually require civilians who own drones to register them with the city. He said any fees attached to that registration could be used to fund police drones.

“A police drone … could be paid for from those fees,” said Oh. “Then you have mobile visibility.”

Ross told Oh that he doesn’t have a firm position on the issue of police drones.

“I don’t know how I feel about that, to be honest with you. The jury’s out on that — I think in a lot of ways, in civil rights issues and privacy issues,” he said.

“I don’t disagree that, as it relates to technology, that it’s something that may come. It may be the wave of the future,” said Ross. “I’m just going to say candidly, I don’t have an answer for you right now.”

Oh said that he believes drones could potentially reduce the amount of money the city spends on police overtime.

“One of the ways to limit the cost of effective policing for our citizens is ‘visible policing,'” said the Councilman. “You have dedicated people in offices watching and then moving around and coordinated with your police officers. It’s, I think, the next wave of technology.”

Oh added that, “right now, our city has no restrictions on drones.”

In 2014, then-City Councilman Jim Kenney introduced legislation to regulate the use of drones. He said at the time that some police officers had approached him about authorizing and setting guidelines for drones. “The police would have to get warrants for the use of these to surveil in nontraditional ways,” Kenney told NewsWorks. “If you want to scale an apartment building to see if someone is dealing drugs or doing something in that apartment building, you would have to get a warrant similar to if you want to go into a house.”

Some law enforcement agencies around the country are already using drones. Critics say that they are an invasion of privacy, and can be hacked relatively easily.

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