Concerns build over law enforcement's use of drones

FOX 8 photo
FOX 8 photo

Concerns over privacy grow as more members of law enforcement consider using drones to fight crime.

Around 9:30 Tuesday night, officials say 27-year-old Bernard Lampton opened fire on Jefferson Parish narcotics agents as they approached his vehicle on Haring Road in Metairie.

Officers returned fire, wounding Lampton as he then fled the scene. Deputies later caught up with Lampton and made the arrest.

"That's the nature of the business and these narcotics officers put their lives on the line every day," said John Fortunato with the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office.

But there's one aspect of Tuesday's crime scene you don't see every day. A drone was used.

The JPSO did not want to comment on that part, but it's a sign that these hi-tech machines are being put to use more often in law enforcement.

"Once you've established proper policy and procedure and the way to properly use those devices, I think that you could see it in law enforcement agencies around the country," said Chip Washington with the Shleby County Sheriff's Office in Tennessee.

Some are concerned, however, over how they could be used.

"I don't think we have created the kinds of safeguards that are necessary to use this technology safely," explained Marjorie Esman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana.

Esman said as more agencies begin using drones, concerns grow over the information the unmanned aerial vehicles may gather.

"If it can detect what other people are doing, which amounts to essentially a warrantless search. [This] gets back to what are they going to do with the information that will inevitably be obtained about people unconnected to whatever the investigation is?" said Esman.

Some experts point to positives though, such as the ability to send drones into dangerous standoff situations and protecting human lives. Another beneficial use may be to safely survey areas following disasters.

Esman agrees. She states there could be beneficial uses, but she's concerned about potential over use.

"That becomes very scary and that's where the problems lie," said Esman. "So I think the first question has to be, do we need this drone? In this instance, what is it going to find that we couldn't find otherwise and what are we going to do to protect people who are essentially under surveillance by the drone?"

Lawmakers in Baton Rouge have recently struck down a bill that would have created laws over private drone use. The bill aimed to make it illegal to use unmanned aircraft to capture images on private property and then distribute them.

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