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Seattle - one of the First American Cities to Buy Police Department Surveillance Drones

Updated on February 19, 2015

SPD Drone Acquisition Began in 2009

Three years after the Seattle Police Department began their search to obtain an unmanned surveillance vehicle - a Drone - I attended their Community Meeting to introduce the unit to the public.

The room was overfilled and the crowd had something to say. The huge majority of speakers challenged the very idea of SPD using drones to overfly neighborhood, for any purpose.

Attendees filmed the event from every angle, while assorted television cameras rolled and print media interviewed and took notes. As you will see from the videos, animated protesters linked drone usage with overseas military actions and questioned the equity of employing UAVs in neighborhoods populated by persons of color, a segment already overrepresented in our jails and prisons.

To this animated audience, SPD introduced their first done to the general public in a community meeting in Seattle's Central District. For the span of the meeting the UAV sat on a cart, protected by several police officers, behind a row of tables.

A certified pilot officer of manned aircraft as well as drones started up the drone's motor. He held the control joystick in one hand, while the wing lights blinked, and he grasped the unit with his other hand.

This is a done deal, as far as city residents are concerned. The city has already invested money into the vehicle. The unit has been flight tested in three locations in Seattle City Parks and in a rural setting on the peninsula.

image credit: my photo

Seattle's Draganflyer Drone or USV

photo credit:Illustration

2/7/13 Mayor Nixes Drone Program

Mayor McGinn Says No More Drones

Seattleites Succeed in Banning Police Drones

Mayor Tells Chief - No More Drones.

I found this meeting unsettling because the police were telling us what they had already done. They weren't asking for our opinions on something they were considering. It felt like they were proud of their new device, which definitely looks like a toy, and they were chomping at the bit to get it into daily use.

SPD Draft for Use of Unmanned Aerial Systems

procedures to initiate UAS Action

Use of UAS Limited to Specific Circumstances

...UAS will only be used to gain an aerial perspective consistent with the open view doctrine.

...UAS may only be used to provide investigative support in the following circumstances:

.criminal investigations, missing persons, hot pursuit of subjects, barricaded subjects, mutual aid for public safety missions, and specific situations with the Assistant Chief of the Special Operations Bureau direct authorization

Homeland Security Section (HSS) has Operational Control and their Field Supervisor Screens Deployment

Deployment will be made consistent with the current Seattle Police Department Unmanned Aerial System Operations Manual.

Only Trained Officers will Operate drones, with flight logs kept at HSS

See Operations Manual 6.255 - PRO-1 (UAS Call-Out):

Action taken by:

Officer.................... 1. Recognizes the need for UAS deployment

.................................2. contacts a supervisor

..................................... 2a. Explains why a UAS is needed

Supervisor.............3. Determines if the situation meets the criteria for UAS deployment

..................................... 3a. If it does, advises communications to contact a UAS supervisor

Communications: 4. Contacts a UAS supervisor

..................................... 4a. Explains the situation

Seattle Police Drone Unveiling

SPD Introduces Drone at Community Meeting 10.25.12 - in the Central District Garfield Community Center

Assistant Chief Pat Mc Donaugh

Technology for Remaining Aloft Exists - video game thrills

The Seattle Police Department introduces their drone to the public, with the caveat that - the drone only has the capability of flying for ten minutes. This is a smokescreen, however true today, because we clearly have the technology to use drones that can fly 24 hours per day, as this video demonstrates.

This video has all the excitement of a video game. Quick action, spying, super sophisticated control stations, voyeuristic aspect, control life and death, carrying and discharging arms, laser guided, sensor controlled, trigger action,

Predator drones are presented as Support Vehicles that Protect our Troops.

Local police drones are presented as Support Vehicles that Protect our Police Forces, when engaged by law enforcement.

If you live in a high crime neighborhood, police drones can fly outside your 10th floor apartment, and record inside your home through your windows. They need only be armed with a camera.

Aside from the issue surrounding military use of drones, do we want to give up our assumed Right to Privacy in our own homes?

Seattle's Shadowhawk UAV

Video display of SPD's new drone, flying outside. Watch

Recommendations for Government Drones

ACLU Report: "Protecting Privacy From Aerial Surveillance: Recommendations for Government Use of Drone Aircraft"

The public is already aware of many of the uses for Predator Drones, but hardly cognizant of the fact that their very own cities may already have the unmanned aerial vehicles in operation, or in the planning stages.

In conjunction with the Homeland Security Department, local jurisdictions may be training to fly the units. Like North Dakota, they may have actually used a full-sized armed Predator Drone to apprehend a suspect.

The American Civil Liberties Union is active in presenting the case for preserving our freedoms and our rights. Read their December 15, 2011 Report.

Read Report

Download Report

Full Sized Military Drone

Full Sized Military Drone
Full Sized Military Drone

Your Opinion Please - anyone may comment

What is your position on the use of drones in your neighborhood?

What Are Our Rights to Privacy When Drones Fly Overhead?

A House of Representatives Field Forum at Rice University explores the rights, under the Fourth Amendment.

Because of the huge cost of helicopters and other aircraft, US governmental agencies are limited in how much they can invade our privacy, in the skies over our heads.

With the development of new very small drones, the technology spurs innovative industries whose mission is to sell their new tiny drones. Who better to sell them to than law enforcement agencies of the mom and pop kind - local police and sheriff departments.

The law enforcement agencies are more than eager to get their hands on these video game-like tools. The UAVs are touted for their humanitarian uses, such as finding lost persons and helping with natural disasters.

The ACLU lawyer, Chris Calabrese, testified on behalf of safeguarding individual liberties. Testimony and Hearing Video

Texas Law Enforcement Excited About UAVs

Insitu, the business that makes drones in Washington State, started in 1994, making tools for weather surveillance.

After the frights of 9/11 and the media scare-factories, the founders, Tad McGeer and Andy von Flotow, realized they were in on the ground floor of what could be a valuable new use for their units.

In Houston, where they spent $300,000 on a 50# Shadowhawk, designed to be weaponized, residents raised alarm when they saw the UAV flying over their neighborhoods.

Montgomery County Sheriff, Tommy Gage, says it's pretty exciting for them to be in on the ground floor of American city drone use. Montgomery County launched it's first drones in 2007, a larger more threatening appearing style, that was discontinued due to citizen complaints.

“They're at the top of their game in terms of their niche and trying to make decisions that will keep them ahead of the curve”

Lindsay Voss, a defense industry analyst with consulting firm Frost and Sullivan in San Antonio, Texas, said Insitu's development of a weather-tracking drone put it at the front of its manufacturing sector when the Department of Defense needed new tools to fight terrorism.

The Blaze elaborates on the Texas Shadowhawk Drone. Sharp photographs and videos tell the story.

Unmanned Drones Launched in Houston

Sites of Present and Future American Drones - the drone war is no longer only far-away --- it's right around the corner from home

64 Drone bases existed on June 13, 2012, on United States land, according to a story by Lorenzo Franceschi-BicchieraiEmail, on

12 of those locations bear actual Predator Drones, the kind that can bear armaments.

Police departments, universities, and other agencies have stealthily introduced these drones into our lives, under cover as upgrading their technology, safeguarding the police, and increasing surveillance possibilities to fight crime. Read the Article

photo credits:

map: Drone Map

drone photo below: Shadow Drone

The Shadow Predator Drone

The Shadow Predator Drone
The Shadow Predator Drone

Should Drones Spy on Americans?

Posters for Peace & Justice Wall Calendar

Posters for Peace & Justice 2013 Wall Calendar
Posters for Peace & Justice 2013 Wall Calendar

Posters for peace and justice are featured in this graphic calendar.


DHS to Double Use of Predator Drones Used in America

Armed Drones in the United States

Are you concerned about the video game aspect of drone use in the U.S.?

Your Thoughts Please

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    • lesliesinclair profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago

      @CampingmanNW: Police helicopters make a dreadful noise that one cannot avoid noticing and they are problematic in their own ways, but just because we don't like bees that doesn't mean we should not work to eradicate mosquitoes - separate issues, both of them.

      We are not currently "on camera" outside our dwelling doors and the privacy of our yards should be covered as an extension of the right privacy in our homes. Little drones flying through my backyard, my front yard, over my house, over the sidewalks I navigate, and over my children as they walk to school or play on the park playground, disturbing the peaceful state of nature, and actually landing or dropping a package with a whack hardly contribute to my wellbeing. We need to not concoct a warehouse or airport environment in the personal space of our daily lives.

      Not everyone can go camping, whether through poverty, disability, lack of vacation time for having to work two minimum wage jobs, lacking a car or the money to rent one, and lacking the space to store all the camping gear in a small dwelling space - in order to nurture themselves in nature. Our investment in the creation or maintenance of public and private spaces conducive to contemplation will greatly elevate the public health. Adding the visual stress of countless moving miniature flying machines carrying loads, to the audible stress of additional mechanical noises, to the intrusions into our peace of mind is needless. We already have delivery networks that are predictable and unobtrusive and leave the skies to the birds and to unavoidable high level aircraft. The lower skies belong to the people and we need to stand for our rights.

    • CampingmanNW profile image


      4 years ago

      It is waaaaay too late to worry about privacy issues people seem to have about drones. Americans gave up their right to privacy years and years and years ago. As an American citizen, you are on camera somewhere, from the moment you step out your front door (look around, your own neighbors may even have a camera). We are under surveillance everywhere and we say nothing. Traffic intersections, banks, stores, laundromats, gas station, police cruisers, supermarkets, malls, big box retailers, the veterinarian clinic, the Dr's office waiting room, even the neighborhood ice cream vendor driving about has a camera. What about the free flying police helicopters already on patrol, news helicopters? Why worry about one more layer of surveillance? If they don't get the drone issue through this time? They will keep pushing and keep pushing and keep pushing until they do. That's my two cents worth anyway.

    • lesliesinclair profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago

      @burntchestnut: My position also, and although Seattle has sent the original drones back it doesn't mean they may try to introduce them for various types of surveillance again. It really surprised me that this would happen in such a progressive city, to begin with.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Drones should only be used for emergency situations such as searching for people trapped in a large building fire, search and rescue, hostage situations, etc. They should not be used for ordinary surveillance.

    • lesliesinclair profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @Nightcat: I attended the hearing. It's easily quiet enough to appear outside a home window, or a business window.

    • lesliesinclair profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @pauly99 lm: That's the problem - giving up our Rights!

    • pauly99 lm profile image

      pauly99 lm 

      5 years ago

      Like Michael said, not sure what to think about this. I can see how it can make Seattle a little safer though if you don't mind the obtrusiveness of the drones.

    • Michael Oksa profile image

      Michael Oksa 

      5 years ago

      Liberty is almost always sacrificed in the name of "well-being". I don't know if it's a good idea or a bad idea, but it is one that needs to be examined more closely.

    • Nightcat profile image


      5 years ago

      Not at all. If this saves officers in the field I am all for it. That drone is so loud and clunky it is hardly going to sneak up on anyone. :)

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image

      Tolovaj Publishing House 

      5 years ago from Ljubljana

      This is concerning.


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