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Originally published October 24, 2012 at 7:58 PM | Page modified October 25, 2012 at 12:08 PM

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Seattle Police display drones they hope to deploy

The public will have a chance to see and hear about the Seattle Police Department's unmanned aerial vehicles and its proposed policies on how, when and where drones can be used at a presentation Thursday night at Garfield Community Center.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The public will have its first chance to view the drone aircraft Seattle police hope to deploy during a 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday presentation at Garfield Community Center.

Though a drone will not be flown at the community center, 2323 E. Cherry St., one will be on display and police will answer questions about the department's unmanned aerial vehicles, police said.

In addition, a draft of the department's proposed policies on the use of drones was released on Wednesday on the police department blog "SPD Blotter" (seati.ms/TBvxHL).

Whitcomb said concerns from the public may be used to fine-tune the department's policies before the document is submitted to the City Council's Public Safety, Civil Rights and Technology Committee.

The department's intended use of drones came to light earlier this year when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) gave approval for Seattle police to use unmanned aerial vehicles, more commonly known as drones.

According to the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation, SPD was among only a handful of law-enforcement agencies to win FAA approval to use drones, with the majority going to academic, military and government organizations.

Aerial drones, which can be as small as a hummingbird or as large as a jet, are most commonly known for the military's use of them in the Middle East and Asia. But they have numerous domestic uses, according to the trade group Association for Unmanned Vehicles International.

The department's drones are operated with a handheld controller and joysticks and each carries cameras that can take still pictures, videos and infrared shots.

Police have said they envision using them in search-and-rescue operations, natural disasters and traffic collisions and during the investigation of unusual crime scenes.

They are limited by a battery life of less than 10 minutes and an inability to carry more than 35 ounces, according to police.

In addition, the FAA has guidelines on how and when law-enforcement agencies can use drones.

According to FAA guidelines, police drones cannot be flown at night, around people or over crowds. FAA requirements also state that drones must be flown below 400 feet and must remain within eyesight of an operator as well as an observer at all times.

The potential use of drones by law-enforcement agencies sparked the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to review existing laws and policies and issue a report stating that current laws are inadequate to safeguard citizen privacy.

Doug Honig, of the ACLU of Washington, said the proposed use of drones should prompt city officials to take the lead in crafting strict and clear policies on what kind of information can be collected, who can collect it, how the information can be used and how long it will be kept.

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or cclarridge@seattletimes.com.

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.

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