Miami-Dade Police Ask FAA To Renew Drone License For Another Year

Categories: Crime
Thumbnail image for MDPDdrone.jpg

Look! In the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a flying drone with a camera strapped to it! Odds are you've seen the first two in Miami airspace. But so far, the only people to have spied the third in action are the folks in Miami-Dade Police Department training sessions.

A year and a half ago, MDPD received two T-Hawk drones -- cousins of the ones patrolling the skies over Afghanistan -- as part of a Department of Justice grant. It was the first large metro force in the nation to get these metallic eyes in the sky, and hoped to use them as support during hostage situations and police standoffs.

So far, at least, the department has yet to use one in action. It doesn't help that, per the Federal Aviation Administration, MDPD is allowed to fly the drones only below 300 feet, outside city limits, within visual sight of the operator, and during the day. (The devices can fly up to 9,000 feet and hover in midair.)

But MDPD isn't going to throw in the towel on its robot helpers. Last month, through the county commission, the department put in for a renewal of its FAA license to fly the drones. That measure, sponsored by Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz, is expected to pass a vote this week.

So why keep the program going despite the heavy restrictions and lack of use (especially when privacy advocates cringe at the words drone and police in the same sentence)? Major Thomas Hanlon of MDPD's Special Patrol Bureau says practice will hopefully make perfect.

"Our ultimate goal is obviously to expand the realm with the FAA, building up the credibility of how we use [the drones]," Hanlon tells Riptide. "We're showing them that we operate this responsibly."

Does expanding that realm include using the drones for surveillance? Hanlon says MDPD has no plans to spy on you from afar.

What's best about the program for MDPD, though, is that it doesn't cost the department much to have the drones. One of the $50,000 machines was paid with the DOJ grant, while the other is leased from its developer, Honeywell, for $1 a year.

So for at least one more year, Miami-Dade police will continue tinkering and testing until they finally get a chance to put their drones to work.

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Who (or what) can I sue when one of these things crashes into my house?  If the answer is nobody, then these things have no right flying around my house in the first place.

Ed Ochoa
Ed Ochoa

For the money they are spending they might as well go to a hobby shop and buy one of those remote controlled helis and put one of those small cameras on it all for about $300

EzƦă VɅǹ
EzƦă VɅǹ

Well, if it's any consolation this thing isn't anything like a predator. It's a the form factor of a flying lawnmower that is four times as loud and with a very distinct sound and won't ever sneak up on anyone. QUite the contrary; one of the reasons it's so successful in Iraq is that when they launch one, everyone for about half a mile radius hears it and runs away because they know there is a strike team nearby - thus the claim "great for keeping insurgents under control". It's got a camera and that maxes out it's payload and the video is typically pretty crappy so you can see people in an open desert but in foliage it's pretty useless. It can fly for about 30-40 minutes and has a very short range. It's only suited for use in tactical SWAT situations where they need to peek over a fence for a few minutes. There is nothing remotely clandestine about this vehicle.

Lorenzo Restivo
Lorenzo Restivo

Looks like Miami-Dade Police are tring to call in a UAV.

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