Indiana lawmakers back police drones without search warrants

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — State lawmakers want to make it easier for police to put drones in the air above a crime scene.

Republican state Rep. Bob Morris of Fort Wayne wants police to put a drone over a crime scene without a search warrant.

“This bill is needed for public safety,” Morris said.

The House Committee on Courts and Criminal Code on Tuesday passed the legislation onto the full House of Representatives for its review. 

More and more police departments are launching drones. Police in Evansville and Fort Wayne showed their support for the legislation during a hearing of the committee. 

“Our aeriel assets allow us to operate day or night, providing high-definition video and still photos,” said Detective Mark DeCamps with Evansville police. “Our thermal camera allows us to locate missing persons or fleeing suspects in nearly all conditions.” 

But, there’s some gray area. 

“The way the law is currently written, we’re not able to effectively use what we’ve got,” DeCamps said.

Which is where the legislation from Morris comes in. He argued police would, for example, use a drone over a highway crash that becomes a crime scene or during large public events.

“The best example to use here is parades, large venues, outdoor concerts that are happening,” Morris said. “They can lift up this drone and have surveillance of what is going on and making sure people are protected.”

“In the interest of public safety, for those planned events, we would like the ability, under an exception, to be able to use the drone without seeking a search warrant every time,” said Lt. Jonathan Bowers with Fort Wayne Police Department.

On Wednesday, the Indiana Public Defenders Council raised concerns.

“You can probably imagine these devices would be used more in the inner city than they would rural counties. We just generally have concerns about domestic surveillance,” Michael Moore with the Public Defender Council said. “Not to get too Orwellian, but you can imagine the concerns we have are there.” 

Morris insisted people would not have to worry about domestic surveillance.

“Right now,” Morris said. “This bill respects our Fourth Amendment rights, which is search and seizure.” 

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