The Michigan State Police have been given authorization from the federal government to use drones for law enforcement purposes throughout the entire state, officials revealed on Monday.
The authorization makes Michigan State Police the first law enforcement agency to be given statewide license to use drones by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The FAA had only previously granted the licenses to a few municipalities around the country.
Officials say the development will help the state relay important information to local police departments, citing at least one case where they say the technology has already made a difference.
“We actually did our first mission last week when we flew over a fire scene in Ottawa County,” 1st Lt. Chris Bush, commander of field support and aviation for State Police told Detroit Free Press on Monday.
Bush said the video and photographs captured by the drone during the fire helped investigators identify where it was still blazing, information that helped firefighters targeting the blaze.
The State Police used a Homeland Security grant to purchase its first drone for $158,000 back in 2013, Free Press reported, though it is apparently already planning to expand its air fleet.
“We’re not sure where [the approval is] going to take us,” Bush said, adding that he envisions having multiple drones stationed around the state for emergency response capabilities.
But that prospect makes some privacy watchers a little uneasy, noting the potential privacy abuses that could be enabled by drone technology.
“There are legitimate uses but it’s important that we rein in big brother,” former state Rep. Tom McMillin, who sponsored a failed bill that would have regulated police use of drones in 2013.
“I really wanted to make sure there is reporting on how it’s being used,” he said. “If they are recording things that they shouldn’t, that stuff should be destroyed. We don’t just want them flying around watching people.”