Tennessee City Council Approves Purchasing Drones for Fire, Police Departments

During a recent meeting, the Oak Ridge City Council unanimously approved spending $56,624 on these drones and training to use them.

Oak Ridge works out privacy concerns for drone use

Benjamin Pounds, Oak Ridger, Oak Ridge, Tenn.

(MCT)

Amid some concerns about privacy, the Oak Ridge police and fire departments are getting three drones.

During a recent meeting, the Oak Ridge City Council unanimously approved spending $56,624 on these drones and training to use them. A grant from the U.S. Department of Energy will pay for this cost.

“It is a new frontier, if you will. There’s a lot of information that will be gathered, and I think we just need to be really careful with that,” Mayor Pro Tem Rick Chinn stated at the meeting.

Legal uses

A memo included in the meeting agenda lays out some of the drones’ uses for the first responders.

“When responding to incidents involving armed persons or other imminent threats, police officers are exposed to danger while searching and gathering information. Likewise, firefighters are exposed to danger while assessing fire and/or hazardous materials incidents. Searches for lost persons are often impeded by dense vegetation or delayed while awaiting all-terrain vehicles or boats. A drone can perform these tasks without delay and without placing responders at risk,” stated the memo included in

Some Council members at the Council meeting, and an earlier one, discussed privacy concerns. City staff have said existing laws provide some restrictions. City Police Chief Robin Smith said he plans to limit the use of recording by the drones.

Chinn asked Smith, “Tell me why you would not use one of these because of a concern you have because of the unwanted data that you would collect?”

“A drone is not recording all the time. It only records if you need for it to,” Smith said. “It’s only recording when you activate; you need to record what you’re looking at.”

The Fire Academy:
Fire Department UAS Program Implementation
UAS/Drone Integration and Operations for the Fire Service

A city memo included in the agenda explains the legal restrictions. It states that if a drone is shooting a video “while in flight to a scene,” the city must delete that portion of the video that wasn’t at the scene within 72 hours “and nothing inadvertently witnessed may be used for evidence of a crime or for public release.” It stated this is required by law, and ORPD officers present at the meeting explained that this also applies in general to recordings not related to an investigation. The city also has to keep flight logs for each drone and each drone pilot, the memo stated.

As police officers Jeremy Huddleston and Derek Burchfield explained at the meeting, the drone operator will still be able to watch a livestream video from the drone, even when it’s not recording.

City Council member Jim Dodson made the motion to approve the drones purchase and training, and fellow Council member Chuck Hope seconded.

Policy

There still are some steps the city plans to take before it can use the drones. Mayor Warren Gooch added an amendment to the motion to purchase the drones, stating the city needs “one uniform set of policies” on when and how any city department can use drones and City Attorney Tammy Dunn needs to approve these policies. He added that a federal certification will also be required. Hope seconded that motion. It passed unanimously.

Earlier in the meeting, Council member Ellen Smith said the laws regarding use of drone footage are a “complicated mess” and the city needs to have some “plain English” policies in the city’s statutes.

Ben Pounds is a staff reporter for The Oak Ridger. Call him at (865) 441-2317 and follow him on Twitter @Bpoundsjournal.

This article originally appeared on Oakridger: Drones to be bought for police, fire use

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