A bill under consideration at the Statehouse would restrict the way police agencies could use drones.
The legislation has bipartisan support for different reasons. Ohio Public Radio's Jo Ingles reports.
This bill is sponsored by unusual bedfellows. Democratic Senator Mike Skindell says he’s sponsoring the bill because he wants to make sure police agencies don’t use drones to unfairly gather evidence against suspects. Republican Senator Kris Jordan, who doesn’t agree with Skindell on much, agrees this legislation is needed.
“We still deserve the right to privacy that our founders intended for us to have when they wrote out the bill of rights protecting our civil liberties.”
Basically, the bill would say law enforcement agencies would need to get warrants from the court in order to be able to use drones to gather evidence against suspects. Jordan says there need to be some safeguards to protect Ohioans from being unreasonably targeted by law enforcement.
“There aren’t enough guardrails up there to limits, I guess, the potential for spying. I’m not saying that any specifically do but we need to put guardrails out there to protect the individual rights of citizens.”
Franklin County Sheriff’s Department Sergeant Samuel Byrd says drones can keep people safe. He explains the sheriff’s office is using drones with a system that helps monitor people who are prone to wandering and getting confused – such as patients who have Alzheimer’s, autism and Down Syndrome.
“Currently, with our ground units that we have, we may have a quarter of a mile to three quarters of a mile reception. By using the drone and the technology they put on that to receive those signals, that increases our reception up to three miles away. So it enhances our ability to locate them quicker and faster.”
Byrd says his department is focused on using drones for public safety, not as a way of gathering evidence. And he says his office wouldn’t mind getting a warrant for using the drone in non-emergency situations.
“The only time I think that we wouldn’t want to have to go get the warrant is when public safety and somebody else’s safety, particularly law enforcement and the public, is at risk at that point and time. That tool would give us the opportunity to quickly assess the situation to keep people safe.”
Byrd has spoken with the sponsors of the plan. Both sides say they’ll sit down and discuss the details of this bill to come up with ways to ensure public safety while also protecting constitutional rights of Ohioans.