A couple police chiefs in the Washington, D.C., metro area spoke on a local radio station's "Ask the Chief" Q&A session this morning. Topics ranged from use of drones by the local police forces, illegal immigrants, license plate readers, and speed cameras. Their answers give a peek into the policing is done, and may soon be conducted, in the nation's capital.
The most timely part of the discussion reported by WTOP radio was the use of unmanned aerial vehicles by local authorities. The Blaze has reported several instances where police forces have begun using the technology once thought reserved for warfare and how even hobbyists have used drones in protests or to spotcrimes. With the Electronic Freedom Frontier obtaining documents on just what organizations have permission for drones from the Federal Aviation Administration through a FOIA request, drone use within the United States continues to be a hot topic. The FAA Modernization and Reform Act was passed in Congress earlier this year and is expected to be signed into law by the President to create new regulations that would further open the sky for private, commercial and military drones in the United States by 2015. This same act would also would deploy up to 30,000 military drones into U.S. skies by 2020.
WTOP included some concern over the pervasive nature of drone technology and the use of them on American soil (or sky) from Congress members:
"The potential for invasive surveillance of daily activities with drone technology is high," wrote Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., in an April 19 letter to FAA. "We must ensure that as drones take flight in domestic airspace, they don't take off without privacy protections for those along their flight path."
Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said in the same letter he "proudly suppported" the FAA Modernization and Reform Act that allowed for the domestic use of drones. There are many institutions in his home state that the FAA has cleared for done use, including Texas A&M University, and the police forces in the city of Arlington outside Dallas-Fort Worth and in Montgomery County near Houston.
"However, if used improperly or unethically, drones could endanger privacy and I want to make sure that risk is taken into consideration," he said.
What did the police chiefs from departments in Fairfax County and Prince William County -- both in Virginia -- think about the use of drones?
"Drones will certainly have a purpose and a reason to be in this region in the next, coming years," said Fairfax County Police Chief David Rohrer on WTOP's "Ask the Chief". "Just as a standpoint as an alternative for spotting traffic and sending information back to our VDOT Smart Traffic centers, and being able to observe backups."
Prince William County Police Chief Charlie Deane on the other hand is not pursuing drones. He said, "I really haven't studied them that much. I'm sure they're valuable to some degree, but I don't know about their capabilities."
The discussion also broached license plate readers. Both departments have the technology, data from which the chiefs said is retained for less than a year. In Nov. 2011, the Blaze brought to reader's attention a Washington Post investigation into the Dictrict's license plate readers on both vehicles and stationary sites. In the metro area, more than 250 cameras reported as taking 1,800 images per minute. The Post reported that privacy advocates were less concerned over the readers being in use and more about how long data was maintained and the reasons for which it could be accessed:
Should someone access the database for something other than a criminal investigation, they could track people doing legal but private things. Having a comprehensive database could mean government access to information about who attended a political event, visited a medical clinic, or went to Alcoholics Anonymous or Planned Parenthood.
Deane is reported as saying some of the data coming in from the license plate readers is "fascinating."
The chiefs also discussed illegal immigrants in the area, specifically Deane whose department WTOP reports has been nationally recognized for checking the citizenship of everyone that's arrested:
Deane: Our policy is simple. We investigate the immigration policy of anyone who is arrested, regardless of their nationality.
From a policy standpoint, we focus on individuals who are in the country illegally who have committed a crime. We are not doing random checks.
Part of our policy, very firmly entrenched with our officers, is to protect the status of people who are victims of crimes, regardless of their immigration status. "We do not participate in racial profiling."
We report any illegal immigrants to federal law enforcement.
It's certainly an increase in work "but it's a part of our business today."
Rohrer chimed in saying although it is not required to check status of citizenship by his department, officers are trained in how to raise these questions. Rohrer also emphasized, "we are not a sanctuary."
Other topics of discussion included speed cameras, horse stabbings, and use of cellphones by officers while driving. As for the latter, it will, for now, remain allowable. Deane said he anticipates officers will be banned from using handsets at some point, while Rohrer said he wouldn't go that far, noting he believes there will occasionally be times when the officer would need to use a phone while driving.
Check out WTOP's full blog post for more on what was said during "Ask the Chief" here.
Featured image: WTOP/Paul Shinkman
[H/T Drudge Report]