What others say: Use unmanned aircraft judiciously

  • Monday, June 20, 2016 5:28pm
  • Opinion

Among the symbols of advancing technology, heightened focus on security and fears of eroding privacy rights, it’s hard to find a more prominent icon than the drone. Civilian models are technically referred to as unmanned aerial systems, both to be more specific about the aircraft’s uses and in an attempt to create some distance between the image of drones as semi-autonomous agents of government power and surveillance. It was close to inevitable that the issue of drone use by law enforcement would arrive in Fairbanks, as it has in many other U.S. communities. Now that it has, it’s important that strong policies be adopted to balance the police adding a powerful tool to their capabilities for law enforcement with the concerns of the public that such a tool could easily be misused in a way that hurts public liberties and damages the reputation of the police.

The UAS capacity the Fairbanks Police Department is contemplating, asking for $7,000 for UAS equipment as part of a $32,000 federal grant request. That sum fits with a system that would consist of one or two higher-end consumer quadcopter models or their equivalent. It wouldn’t mean replacement of officers on the street with unmanned aircraft, nor would it allow for widespread surveillance. But for those concerned about the creep of devices that can chip away at residents’ privacy, the fact that the police drone’s use would be limited isn’t likely reassuring.

Those concerns are valid. Technology has had great value in helping keep law enforcement officers out of harm’s way — bomb-disposal robots come to mind — but in some circumstances, there have absolutely been cases when officers overstepped the proper use of their equipment, as in the use of military-surplus equipment to respond to protesters in isolated cases in the Lower 48. Even consumer UAS systems have substantial capacity for surveillance, and citizens are right to pay attention and demand accountability when such tools are used by any arm of the government.

At the Fairbanks City Council meeting this month at which the UAS request was discussed, Chief Randall Aragon said that use of the system would be restricted to cases where its benefits to officers and the public is clear, and that each use would likely require his personal approval. That would be wise, and the department and city should be transparent about the circumstances that would allow use of the system.

While it might be helpful to survey the scene of a car accident with a UAS, for instance, to keep officers out of a busy roadway, it wouldn’t be appropriate to use the capabilities of the system to perform surveillance as an end-run around a search warrant.

Used responsibly, unmanned aerial systems can be a powerful tool for law enforcement without unduly impinging on citizens’ rights. But the city should draft policies that ensure that balance is maintained, and residents should speak out so that their concerns are incorporated into the plan.

­—Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, June 17, 2016

More in Opinion

Apayauq Reitan, the first transgender woman to participate in the Iditarod, tells the House Education Committee on March 30, 2023, why she opposes a bill restricting transgender rights. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: The imaginary transgender sports crisis

House Bill 183 is a right-wing solution to a problem that doesn’t exist now and never will.

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, a Nikiski Republican, speaks in favor of overriding a veto of Senate Bill 140 during floor debate of a joint session of the Alaska State Legislature on Monday, March 18, 2024. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Sen. Jesse Bjorkman: Session ends with budget, dividend and bills passed

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

The Alaska State Capitol. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Listen to PAs; support Senate Bill 115: Modernizing PA Practice in Alaska

Health care is rapidly evolving, demanding a more flexible and responsive system

Mount Redoubt can be seen across Cook Inlet from North Kenai Beach on Thursday, July 2, 2022. (Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion file photo)
Opinion: Hilcorp Alaska: Powering Southcentral Alaska — past, present and future

Hilcorp Alaska has and will continue to fully develop our Cook Inlet basin leasehold

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, a Nikiski Republican, speaks in favor of overriding a veto of Senate Bill 140 during floor debate of a joint session of the Alaska State Legislature on Monday, March 18, 2024 (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Sen. Jesse Bjorkman: Collegiality matters

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Juneau Empire file photo
Larry Persily.
Opinion: Alaska might as well embrace the past

The governor, legislators, municipal officials and business leaders are worried that the Railbelt will run short of natural gas before the end of the decade

The Alaska State Capitol on March 1. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Opinion: Physicians oppose Alaska Senate Bill 115 — Independent Practice for PAs

Alaskans don’t want access to just any health care, they want access to high quality care

Norm McDonald is the deputy director of Fire Protection for the Alaska Division of Forestry & Fire Protection. (Photo courtesy Bureau of Land Management Alaska Fire Service)
The Swan Lake Fire can be seen from above on Monday, Aug. 26, 2019, on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Alaska Wildland Fire Information)
Opinion: This wildfire prevention month, reflect on ways to protect each other and our communities from wildfire

Alaskans saw what happened in Canada last year, and they know it can happen here too

Jason Sodergren and retired veterinarian Ralph Broshes capture and attend to crane shot with an arrow, July 9, 2023, in Homer, Alaska. (Photo provided by Nina Faust)
What happened to the ‘Arrowshot Crane’?

In many animal rescues, the outcome is fairly quickly known, but the… Continue reading