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Alabama police look to drones to monitor college campus

Published time: May 11, 2013 02:21
Edited time: May 13, 2013 13:33
University of Alabama at Hunstville

University of Alabama at Hunstville

Officials at an Alabama university have divulged a new plan to use unmanned aerial devices to help police monitor, and supposedly protect, students on campus.

Law enforcement officials unveiled the plan Wednesday at a press conference at the University of Alabama Huntsville, telling the Huntsville Times the aircraft would provide an “eye in the sky” that could help stop a mass shooting on campus. 

Gary Maddux, the lead research director of Systems Management and Productions Center, said that because the remote-controlled surveillance devices fly at a lower altitude than drones, they are totally unlike the controversial military aircraft. 

We just want to be able to make a difference and we want to make a difference quickly and come up with something to help law enforcement,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about – improving our response times so maybe we could mitigate the next tragedy that could occur.”

Maddux did not specify how the surveillance technology will prevent criminal activity or improve campus police response time. He did add, however, that the drones will “be incredibly useful and offer a wide range of possible applications.” 

The UAVs used over the University of Alabama Huntsville will be capable of using small spotlights or infrared cameras, along with video cameras. But being fitted with the extra technological perks doesn’t mean the police will use them, Maddux claimed. 

Obviously, we’re going to be very cognizant of any privacy issues for students,” he continued. “You can’t be flying your drone and look inside a dorm window. But you couldn’t do that if you were stationary or over in this building and had a line of sight to look in a dorm window. It’s the same basic rules.” 

He bristled when pressed on how the technology employed by the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) differs from the military drones that regularly complete secret bombing missions around the world. 

Obviously, the military has UAVs that fly longer, higher and farther,” he said. “Since we are research and the military has set of rules. If you are domestic and falling under what Federal Aviation Administration guidelines, you have to stay under 400 feet. As far as drone technology versus what we’re doing, I think it’s more syntax than anything.”

The plan seems to be in direct violation of a bill steadily making its way through the Alabama state legislature. The bill, proposed by a Huntsville lawmaker, would make it necessary for law enforcement to obtain a warrant in order to use a drone in order to prevent, in the words of one state senator, “unmanned drones just flying around looking for stuff.”

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