Streetsboro: City council votes to pass drone insurance

 

“Yes. Yes. Yes,” filled the room in the Streetsboro Municipal Center Monday night as city council members voted to purchase insurance for the police department’s new drone.

One drone was recently obtained by the police department and cost $1,800. With additional equipment like batteries and a training class, the drone cost around $3,500 altogether. The police department plans to use the drones for search and rescue, drug house investigation, and in conjunction with the fire department.

Streetsboro City Council discusses an insurance policy for the police department’s new unmanned aerial vehicle on Monday.

At the previous council meeting, questions concerning the drone were considered, and at the next council meeting, more details on drone operation will be discussed, such as legislation restricting the drone use.

Jeff Allen, a council-at-large member, favors the drone for emergency situations. He’s less convinced about using it for criminal investigations, due to the possible invasion of privacy. He wants to learn more about who owns airspace for privacy concerns, but he thinks the drone could be useful for hostage situations, terrorist attacks and chemical spills.

“I am leaning towards [using it] for emergency situations only, and in public right-of-ways only,” Allen said.

Darin Powers, Streetsboro’s chief of police, said that the police have worked to gain the trust of the public. He said that they will not be using the drone just for fun—rather, its use will be incident-driven and specific.

The drones will also not be used to enforce traffic laws. Currently, personnel are being trained to operate the drones. The police chief explained that the drones will look official, with shining lights and the police badge.

“We’re not looking in windows,” Powers said. “The very last thing I want to do is erode that trust.” Surveillance will not be done, especially because the drone is incapable of running more than its short battery life of 30 minutes.

Steve Michniak, the council president, believes the drones could be useful for finding things, even marijuana. He explained that marijuana is planted in corn fields, and when the corn turns brown, the marijuana plants stay green. He asked if the police plan to use the drones for drug-finding purposes.

Powers said it is possible.

Michniak also brought up privacy issues. The drones are allowed to be flown within 400 feet of the ground. Above the 400 feet of airspace, the Federal Aviation Administration takes over. Expectation of privacy was spoken of at the meeting, and it was explained that there is no expectation of privacy for people who could be seen from the air. Looking down from the air is considered no invasion of privacy. The police chief maintained that they have no intention of invading citizens’ privacy.

Powers said that if a credible tip is received then the drone may be used to search. But Allen is concerned it may invade privacy. “Who decides when it’s a good tip?” Allen said. Footage from the drone will be public record, so the possibility of inadvertent pictures disturbs Allen.

To insure the drones, $828 will be spent yearly. If an accident occurs with the drone, the insurance will cover  the other party’s injuries, not repairs to the drone itself.

Streetsboro Police Department’s new DJI Phantom 4 awaits its first flight.

While some Streetsboro residents are hesitant about the drones, Anna and Paul Yupa have no such qualms. Not worried about their privacy being invaded by the drones, both attended the finance committee meeting, and believe the drones could be used to search for missing children.

Paul Yupa, an electrician, talked of the drones being potentially powerless to find things in deep forest canopy locations. A trained thermographer, he said that the infrared light on drones can’t see through dense wooded areas.

According to John Ruediger, a council member, the drone has no infrared camera, but it can be upgraded to include one.

Streetsboro resident Jon Hannan attended the meeting and thinks the drones could be useful for finding missing people. “I would be affected if someone flew it on my back porch unexpectedly, like a cop coming to check out my house,” he said. “But I don’t have anything to hide.”

 

 

Text by Anthony Calvaruso and Davy Vargo. Video and photos by Brianne Kocher.