Phoenix City Council Says PD Can Have Surveillance Drones Without Any Policy In Place Because Some Officers Recently Got Shot

from the I-guess-there-will-always-be-time-to-regret-things-later dept

The Phoenix Police Department wants drones and it wants them now. And, according to this report by the Phoenix New Times, it’s going to get them.

After several hours of debate and spirited public response during the Phoenix City Council meeting this week, local officials agreed to authorize the police department to purchase public safety drones right away.

Late Wednesday night the Phoenix City Council voted 6-3 after a lengthy, and at times heated, discussion.

The request was submitted to the city council at the last minute, fast-tracking the agency’s plans to implement the technology.

Why the rush? Well, according to a letter [PDF] signed by Mayor Kate Gallego and two council members, having a drone in the air would have… not changed anything at all about a recent incident where officers were shot.

In the early morning hours of February 11, our officers were ambushed when responding to a call for service at a two-story home in Southwest Phoenix near 54th Avenue and Broadway. Nine of our police officers were injured but thankfully all of them are recovering.

During this incident was determined for the safety of our officers drone would need to be utilized to neutralize the situation. Currently, Phoenix does not own any drones for use by our Police Department, therefore we had to rely on the grace of our neighbor, the City of Glendale, to provide our department with a drone.

News reports about the ambush shooting make no mention of a deployed drone or describe what difference it made in resolving the deadly situation. But that shooting that happened to have a late-arriving drone is being used to justify the sudden acquisition of drones by the PD, which will presumably be deployed as soon as they’re obtained.

Since it’s apparently a matter of life and death, the request made by the council for the police to develop a drone policy and deployment plan before seeking funding and permission to acquire them has been abandoned. It’s apparently now far too urgent a problem to be slowed down by accountability and transparency.

The committee agreed to allow Phoenix Fire to go ahead with its drone purchases — so it could roll the tech out by the summer — but asked Phoenix police to come back for approval separately, with a more fleshed-out plan.

This new proposal will circumvent that, instead allowing Phoenix police to go ahead with the drone purchase “as soon as possible,” according to a memo, without presenting a policy first to the council.

That gives the Phoenix PD permission to send eyes into the skies without meaningful restrictions or oversight. Far too much slack is being cut for a police department that is currently being investigated by the Department of Justice following years of abusive behavior by its officers. Here’s what the DOJ — which announced this investigation last August — will be digging into:

This investigation will assess all types of use of force by PhxPD officers, including deadly force. The investigation will also seek to determine whether PhxPD engages in retaliatory activity against people for conduct protected by the First Amendment; whether PhxPD engages in discriminatory policing; and whether PhxPD unlawfully seizes or disposes of the belongings of individuals experiencing homelessness. In addition, the investigation will assess the City and PhxPD’s systems and practices for responding to people with disabilities. The investigation will include a comprehensive review of PhxPD policies, training, supervision, and force investigations, as well as PhxPD’s systems of accountability, including misconduct complaint intake, investigation, review, disposition, and discipline.

Not exactly the sort of thing that inspires trust. And certainly not the sort of thing that warrants a free pass on surveillance policies until long after new surveillance tech has been deployed. The Phoenix PD may have recently been involved in an unexpected burst of violence (I mean, committed by someone else against police officers), but that hardly justifies a careless rush into an expansion of the department’s surveillance capabilities.

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Comments on “Phoenix City Council Says PD Can Have Surveillance Drones Without Any Policy In Place Because Some Officers Recently Got Shot”

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That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

"During this incident was determined for the safety of our officers drone would need to be utilized to neutralize the situation."

Please explain to the class how this would have worked out.
I mean adding yet another distraction during an event where your officers were already in over their heads despite being better armed than most 2nd world nations.

Were you just gonna strap a bomb on it and crash it into the bad guys?
Maybe get one that can hold a 9 mm & fire?

I mean y’all freaked out over 1 event, but don’t seem to have a problem with them abusing citizens, violating their rights, and ambushing people who dare think the PD isn’t treating people fairly or legally.

Don’t worry, we’ve arranged for them to learn how the surveillance capabilities work by spying on council members in a rotating schedule & releasing the recording to the public.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: I'm not sure what you mean by "pinpoint".

I would hope that “pinpointing” wouldn’t involve biometric surveillance. I would also hope that police wouldn’t fly these drones for hours on end checking everyone passing through an area or following people surreptitiously without a warrant (or worse, with a general warrant). Police shouldn’t be able to track people who aren’t suspects without letting those people know that the police are staring at them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Sort of an aside here, but what kind of "drones" are they even talking about? "Drone" can mean just about anything, especially as it is a misnomer in the first place. Specialized quadcopters, big-ass fixed-wing stuff?

Is this maybe also on purpose? Given the fire department also wants drones, i would guess those might tend toward quad-style. But the Times doesn’t say. i hope it isn’t left wide open and flexible as to what is an allowable drone, or the cops would probably have remote-operated F16s out of mothball or surplus.

K`Tetch (profile) says:

Weird how they couldn’t ask Maricopa SO if they could borrow a drone, since they had 56 of them as of last summer.

Four Inspire 2’s, sixteen M300’s, eight Matrice 210’s, and 28 Mavic 2s (four Zoom’s, twelve Pro’s, and twelve Enterprise Zoom’s)

So, this incident that they need the drones for, happened inside Maricopa county, and yet 56 drones did nothing. What do they think PhoenixPD adding a few more would do?

Last I checked, they don’t come with a ‘time rewind’ feature, where you can go fly one where it happened and then have it record what happened hours earlier.

BTW, I checked out the map. It’s almost exactly 6 miles direct from Phoenix PD HQ to the incident (and a 7.7 mile drive). It is 8.8 miles to Glendale PD’s HQ.
Distance from the incident to Maricopa County SO? 2.9 miles – its almost mid-way between the incident and the Phoenix PD HQ.

(anyone that knows the area, it’s right by the Marshals and fed-ex distribution centers between broadway and buckeye just east of the 202)

That One Guy (profile) says:

Charming priorities

The department is so bad that no less than the DOJ felt like they needed to step in to investigate it but the city can’t be bothered to do anything about that, however cops face some pissed off citizens and suddenly Something Must Be Done to protect them from what was surely a completely unprovoked attack via drones that will be used for way more than just keeping track of the police I’m sure.

Anonymous Coward says:

The actual reason Phoenix PD wants a drone is to basically video anyone in their own property (surrounded by a fence) that may be either playing in a swimming pool in a bikini or sunbathing (legally)naked.

Seriously. thats what they’re talking about doing with zero oversight, no way to check who has been recorded or have any footage deleted.

Essentially the Phoenix PD have in private discussed how to make their own personal, private wankbank

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