Proposed Florida drone bill could help save lives, Volusia sheriff says

A bill in the Florida legislature seeks to codify law enforcement drone use. Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood said drones are a great tool for law enforcement.

"It's not always easy to fly the helicopter. Sometimes its cost-prohibitive, weather, and other factors to get an aerial view," Chitwood said.

Chitwood said a deputy could launch a drone in minutes, and it could help save lives.

"Missing persons, lost children? Same thing. There are times Air One can't fly, you can fly that drone. Can be used for Silver Alert folks who have wandered off."

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Chitwood said the law wasn’t clear about exactly when he could use drones, aside from a declared emergency. The new bill going through the state legislature aims to lay down the rules for law enforcement drones.

"Bill SB-44 is designed to allow them to use drones predominantly for active crime scene investigations," said Fl Sen. Tom Wright, who represents parts of Brevard and Volusia Counties. He introduced the bill.

Wright said it also lets them collect crime scene evidence, get an overhead view of disaster areas, and monitor traffic. "If they see anything other than what they're there for, it's inadmissible in court. So they can't see someone at the next door house doing something illegal and say they're going to come back and nab that person."

That's a worry for defense attorneys like Whitney Boan, who said lawmakers should take careful steps not to infringe on people's rights.

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"There will be arguments to be made in terms of whether or not police are using their authority under this bill, if it becomes a statute, to surveil places that are arguably not public."

Sen. Wright said there was a provision in the bill letting law enforcement use drones to monitor large crowds and gatherings, but that was later removed. The bill is currently making its way through the Senate committees.