Minneapolis Police Department plans to purchase drones

A public hearing on its draft drone policy is scheduled Wednesday

Drone
This is one of several small drones designed for use by law enforcement and first responders, taken during a practice session May 14 at University of North Dakota- Grand Forks, N.D. The Minneapolis Police Department wants to buy its own drones for use in law enforcement and training.
Dan Gunderson | MPR News 2013

The Minneapolis Police Department wants to buy drones for law enforcement and training purposes. A public hearing on its draft drone policy is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Cathy Wurzer talks with ACLU MN Policy Director Julia Decker about MPD's drone proposal

State law already allows law enforcement in the state — including MPD — to use drones with warrants and additional privacy protections. Minneapolis Councilmember LaTrisha Vetaw, who chairs the committee holding the hearing, told MPR News host Tom Crann that the department had previously borrowed drones from other jurisdictions and now wants to purchase its own.

Vetaw joined All Things Considered to talk about the draft policy.

Hear the conversation using the audio player above or read a transcript of it below. It has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Where do you stand on this? Do you think it's needed and why?

I absolutely think it's needed. You know, technology is our friend now. We're down in officers, a few 100 officers. This technology can be used to assist with a lot of the pushback we're getting from people about what officers do at the scene of crime. These drones can be used to really help with that.

In what way?

By being a little bit more up close and personal with what's going on. We just had a recent case where a drone was used. The drone broke and failed, and we didn't have a backup drone. There ended up being a police-involved shooting in that instance. Had we had that technology there — to look around, to see, to hear where our officers can't be — these drones help with that.

Was that the shooting of Andrew Tekle Sundberg and is the MPD already using these drones and now just firming up a policy?

Yes, that is the incident of Andrew Tekle Sundberg, and the drone was actually borrowed from a different jurisdiction. What's happening with us is we're purchasing our own. But they can be used legally under state law.

The statute offers exceptions that some might find to be a little broad. The department can put up a drone without a warrant — including over protests or public gatherings — if officers have a “reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.” There were concerns about alleged surveillance during the civil unrest that followed George Floyd's murder, where law enforcement was using social media. So what do you say to people who are worried about these issues?

I can't stop them from worrying. I get why people are worried. But I think we have to offer ourselves a chance here to get this right, to use this technology in the right way.

All of that being said, I'm wondering if you're going into the hearing Wednesday with open ears to listen to, perhaps, some objections from the community.

I'm sure there's going to be objections and I'm definitely going in to listen to what people have to say who are for or against it. And there's always the opportunity in the future for us to pass additional policies in Minneapolis if we feel that something is going wrong.

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