City leaders say discussion of draft policy for drones, other public cameras is good first step; policy discussion to continue among all departments

In a review of the city’s draft policy for its use of drones and other camera systems, city leaders said they appreciated the efforts of the police department to discuss the issue with concerned local groups and that continued discussion would be important as the city looks toward a potential drone program.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission received a presentation from the police department on the draft “public safety camera” policy, which would apply to drones and other cameras used by the police department, the fire and medical department, and any other department. Each department will ultimately have its own policy, and Mayor Brad Finkeldei said he appreciated that the process was moving forward as more applications for drones arise.

“And as some people have talked about, I know it’s a growing field — especially some of the aerial vehicles are being used in lots of commercial applications that I’m sure will move into municipal operations as well,” Finkeldei said. “So we need to be ready for that process, and I think this is the first step toward that.”

Some of the questions that came up during the meeting were how any requests for footage between departments would work; rules for retention of video; and keeping all camera technology secure from potential bad actors. The police department has been developing the draft policy, and Interim Chief Adam Heffley told the commission that he sought input on the policy from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Douglas County Libertarians.

The five-page draft policy provides “general guidelines” for the use of public camera systems, including mounted cameras, automatic license plate readers and drone cameras operated by the city. Those include “to prevent, deter and identify criminal activity” and “to assist in identifying, apprehending and prosecuting offenders.” The draft policy spells out several prohibited uses for city camera systems in general, including invasions of privacy, targeted harassment and monitoring protests.

Other sections of the policy address training requirements, storage and retention of media and release of video images, among other topics. The full draft policy can be viewed as part of the agenda materials on the city’s website, The commission is not required to approve administrative policies such as the public safety camera policy, but some policies are brought in front of the commission for feedback.


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