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Groups band together to push for city to create policy on drone use

August 19, 2013

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Drones aren’t yet multiplying in Lawrence, but the people who are against them appear to be.

Five area civil rights and political organizations have banded together to ask city commissioners to make Lawrence one of the first cities in the nation to pass an ordinance limiting the ability of police or other city departments to use drones.

“The concern would be having drones in place 24 hours a day for surveillance purposes,” said Ben Jones, a leader of the Lawrence-based Kansans for Responsible Drone Use. “That may not happen tomorrow, but we also understand that technology is advancing.”

Mayor Mike Dever said he’s willing to consider a policy, although he points out that the city doesn’t own any drones and doesn’t plan to in the foreseeable future.

“If we’re interested in having drones, then we probably would need to have a policy,” Dever said. “I personally don’t foresee any application for drones that I would see as a reasonable extension of city oversight or law enforcement activities.”

Jones’ group asked city commissioners in May to consider a city policy. Commissioners said they would take the matter under advisement, but it hasn’t yet appeared again for further discussion. Now, Jones is hoping a broad-based coalition of groups asking for a policy will spur action. Jones is presenting a letter of support from the Douglas County Libertarians, the Douglas County Republican Party, the Lawrence Coalition for Peace and Justice, MadreLawrence, and Kansas University’s Young Americans for Liberty.

“We’ve spent the summer trying to build support among community groups, and it really is support across the political spectrum,” Jones said.

Jana Rea, chairwoman of the Douglas County Republican Party, said the idea of a local policy makes sense given the national news about how contentious surveillance programs by the federal government have become.

“In this climate, we’re finding out about liberties we have lost after the fact,” Rea said. “I think it is real prudent to put a policy in place now.”

A local policy would not hold any sway over how the federal government chooses to use drones in federal airspace. Proponents aren’t asking for the local policy to apply to potential commercial use of drones either.

“In Kansas I know they have been talked about as a tool for farmers to

survey their crops,” Jones said. “If people want to use them in ways that don’t violate privacy, that is not our concern.”

The groups are asking the city to approve an ordinance that includes:

• a moratorium on any city drone usage until guidelines governing their use have been developed at the state level;

• a ban on the city ever using weaponized drones;

• a ban on the city using drones to conduct surveillance and gather evidence, “except in response to an emergency where lives are at risk.”

The idea of the city’s police force having drones equipped with tear gas or grenade launchers, two examples cited by the group, may be difficult to comprehend now but isn’t out of the realm of possibility, supporters of the policy said.

“It just feels like we are in a surreal environment in terms of what I can envision now,” Rea said. “I don’t put anything outside my scope of imagination.”

Multiple media reports indicated Charlottesville, Va., became the first city in the country to pass a policy limiting drone use. But Jones said Lawrence would still be somewhat unique in passing a policy.

“We have a chance to be a leader both in the state and the country,” Jones said.

Dever said he would meet with Jones in the next couple of weeks, and then make a determination about whether to place discussion of a policy on a future City Commission agenda.

Comments

Armored_One 8 months ago

Out of the gauntlet of options to motivate the people to curtail, you picked drones?

Mental health, education issues, governmental concerns, just to name a few that desperately need citizen intervention, and you picked drones.

I'm glad you have a sense of accomplishment, but how about accomplishing something actually needed here and now, not something that might be considered five or ten years down the road, if ever.

Yet another fine facepalm moment for the residents of Lawrence.

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bearded_gnome 8 months ago

fourth amendment protections under Obama, the political IRS, and the NSA? are you really kidding? you must've been speaking in ironic mode.

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oletimer 8 months ago

just when I thought MAYBE it was safe to breathe the air around Lawrence Kansas, some stupidity like this comes up? With all the things around town that you need to worry about, drones are not one of them. Just like today's society, instead of looking at the big picture and trying to do something, you focus on stuff that A. you have no reason to even discuss it. B. You can't do anything about it anyway. Come on people, prove you actually have brains that work, and think about today's problems that will get you long before you have to worry about drones.

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8 months ago

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consumer1 8 months ago

"The sky is falling the sky is falling". The battle cry of Lawrence left.

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Joe Hyde 8 months ago

I have no idea what the present "shoppers catalog" of drones offers in terms of available models, technological capabilities, flight time duration, operational radius, ground pilot training requirements, etc.

But it seems to me that if the purchase of a drone system were ever seriously considered by a local government entity, the most likely customer is the Douglas County Sheriffs Department, not the Lawrence Police Department. Within the corporate city limits of Lawrence, I submit that almost any law enforcement task a drone can do can be accomplished as well, and in most cases better, by patrol officers in cars, on foot, on motorcycles or bicycles, or by surveillance cameras or other technological means.

In the county it's a different story simply because of the much larger area involved. A drone equipped with appropriate sensor arrays would be a tremendous help in search and rescue efforts for missing persons, rural hostage situations, and to thwart suspected imminent thefts of farm equipment, cattle and horses. Also, with the large body of water at Clinton Lake, I'm sure the information acquired by low altitude drone overflights would be most useful to Corps Park Rangers and Wildlife & Parks officers during searches for outdoor recreationists feared drowned; also to help officers thwart the chronic poaching of big game animals and other protected species.

Still, operating a drone has got to be a financial gamble due to the risk of mid-air collision with the ever-growing number of birds such as vultures, hawks, bald eagles, resident and migratory waterfowl. Even a mid-air strike from a songbird might down a drone, or render its expensive sensors inoperative.

It just seems like the whole debate ought to focus a bit more on the cost of purchasing, operating and maintaining such a system. No doubt these systems are expensive, and once purchased they don't maintain themselves.

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tomatogrower 8 months ago

I want a policy in place in case Big Foot is spotted on Mass street. Can't you guys quit trying to "fix" problems that do not exist. We already have civil rights which will apply to drone usage as well.

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Larry Sturm 8 months ago

Why would they need a policy on drones you can carry a concealed gun anywhere.

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bearded_gnome 8 months ago

once again Joshua_montgomery is talking through his hat. restraint of innovation or drone pizza delivery is not what this policy is about.

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bearded_gnome 8 months ago

given the current technologies for drones to do visual and nonvisual surveillance (i.e. wall penetration) and given that the city of Lawrence need not own drones to have them in use, I am so glad this policy is being proposed! good coalition across the spectrum!

good job folks, thanks.

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Food_for_Thought 8 months ago

Don't worry folks - Magnets and tinfoil hats will render you invisible to drone technology.

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Pr0digy 8 months ago

Yeah would hate to limit anybody from future possibilities of putting up smoke and mirrors in an attempt stifle the taxpayers.

My idea is we just align the policy with current civil rights protections since from the looks of it these groups are asking the commission to limit THE CITY GOVERNMENT OF LAWRENCE KANSAS' drone usage.

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Joshua Montgomery 8 months ago

The City and County need to think carefully about this subject before implementing some kind of alarmist ban.

There are a number of civilian applications for small drones that don't include spying on people or blowing things up.

All of these are potential lines of business for innovative thinkers ( I mean YOU! KU Aerospace Student Entrepreneur of the Future! )

Creating an "Internet of Things" for delivering goods: ( http://matternet.us ) Crop assessment: (Crop Cam: http://www.cropcam.com/ ) Crop dusting: ( UC Davis: http://bit.ly/143dSLx ) Telecommunications: (Solar Powered Atmospheric Satellite: http://ars.to/1cXOFbR ) Environmental Monitoring: ( IAEA Action Plan for Nuclear Monitoring: http://bit.ly/19DYc1z ) Delivering beer and pizza: (Beer Not Bombs: http://f24.my/13JRvMC ) (Domino's Pizza Drone: http://cnnmon.ie/135XcRv )

The FAA hasn't even released rules on what will be allowed, but you can likely expect drones of less than 2 KG to be allowed at altitudes of under 400'

Lets not exclude Lawrence and KU from future development by implementing some kind of reactionary policy based on current military technology.

If you want to be alarmed about something, be alarmed about the license plate cameras the PD is already using.

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