Minneapolis Police Department is working on a plan to include unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in its law enforcement strategy.
Some supporters and police support the new equipment, saying it will help MPD combat a prolonged crime wave that has been exacerbated by staff shortages.
span style=”font weight: 400 We’re not going see the numbers (of police officers) that we used to see,” Cedric Alexander, commissioner of the Minneapolis Office of Community Safety said last month at a Humphrey School of Public Affairs panel. He suggested that the department should find new ways to police the city.
Many residents are concerned about the potential abuse of the equipment – including their use to spy on others and violate privacy rights that could result – and whether an agency seen as unaccountable should be allowed access to this type of technology.
Jonathon Kingsbury, MPD Commander, stated that the department will use drones to improve response to public safety emergencies. This includes search and rescue and crime scene reconstruction.
Minneapolis had 604 sworn officials at the end of August. However, that number drops to 571 if you add 33 officers who are on continuous leave for 78 hours or more (roughly two weeks), according to city data.
Kingsbury stated that drones are a better option than using officers in squad cars or on foot to search for missing children, vulnerable adults, or suspects due to staffing problems.
The UAVs can reach places that officers cannot normally reach like the tops or sides of buildings. They can also be used in situations where an officer could be seriously injured. The drone can be used to quickly determine the extent and size of natural disasters like flash floods.
The 2020 law requires that all law enforcement agencies in the state report on drone deployments. This includes the reason, cost, and number of times.
According to a report from the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Minnesota law enforcement agencies used drones in their investigations more than 2,200 times without a search warrant in 2021. The report examined drone use by state-level public safety agencies. This number was more than 93% higher than in 2020.
Although the equipment was intended for emergency use, almost half (1,042) of those uses were over a public area for officer-training or public relations purposes.
Kingsbury stressed that the program would not be used to monitor an individual or group at random or continuously. A search warrant signed and signed by a judge would be required for any targeted surveillance.
MPD would be prohibited from using drones to harass, intimidate, collect information on protests and demonstrations, or for random surveillance of residents not involved in criminal investigations. The policy would prohibit the department from equipping drones with weapons (lethal or less-lethal), facial recognition technology, as well as from using facial recognition to identify any drone footage.
Kingsbury informed council members that the department will finalize the policy within the next few weeks and then purchase the equipment in the following month or two. He estimated that the cost of the drones, which will be paid out of the MPD general funds, will range from $30,000 to $40,000. However, it was not clear how many devices this amount would cover.
Six to 10 department officers will participate in training to obtain a pilot’s licence to fly the drones . Only the commander of special operations or the deputy chief or higher will be allowed to authorize their use, Kingsbury stated.
Council members heard from almost two dozen Minneapolis residents during an public comment session on the dronesspan styling=”font-weight 400 ;”>.
The drones could be used by the department to limit interactions between police officers and civilians. This could reduce the possibility of things turning ugly. Some drones are equipped with speakers, which police can use to communicate with distressed people while maintaining their distance.
This equipment could be used to help the department fight crime, which is still struggling with staffing shortages.
Joe Tamburino is a downtown criminal defense lawyer who believes the drones can help strengthen police response to increasing criminal activity. He mentioned July 4, which was a day when police were overwhelmed trying to deal with multiple incidents that occurred downtown, including shootings and fireworks being thrown in people’s homes.
He told council members that sometimes police are unable to reach an emergency situation as quickly as a drone. It could have done surveillance if it was capable of doing that. It could have seen which vehicles are being used. We could have known what was going on span>
Despite some support for the policy, the overwhelming negative response was received.
Residents voiced concerns over the potential for privacy violations and civil rights violations. They also worried that the policy would allow officers to exploit loopholes in order to use the technology in other situations than those outlined.
Others cited an earlier report by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights that stated the department had engaged a pattern of racial discrimination over the past ten years in its policing. According to the report, police used social media accounts hidden by them to spy on Black activists and organizations as well as elected officials.
Many people expressed doubts that the department would hold themselves accountable if they violated the policy and shouldn’t be allowed to access equipment funded by taxpayers.
span style=”font weight: 400 ;”>” We don’t want to make things worse between MPD officers and citizens of Minneapolis.” Susan Van Pelt, a Mill District resident, told council members.
MPD still has not yet purchased the equipment. However, Munira Mohammed of Safety Not Surveillance (a coalition of 12 Twin Cities groups) stated in an interview that surveillance cameras and drones are a way to solve staffing problems. She said that this could lead to more law enforcement agencies turning to them.
Mohamed stated that the stakes were too high for institutions dealing with crime and civil liberties. Law enforcement’s use of technology in many situations could lead to more racial discrimination in police work.
“A computer shouldn’t be making any decisions when it comes to life and death circumstances like the criminal justice system or in law enforcement.” “A computer should not be making decisions about life and death situations like in the criminal justice system or law enforcement span>