Fire capt. and attorney propose public safety drone policy

St. Louis Fire Department Capt. Gregg Favre said the report lays out what a model policy, or city, state or federal law could look like

ST. LOUIS — A fire captain and assistant city attorney co-authored a drone policy to provide guidelines for the use of drones by public safety agencies. 

Captain Gregg Favre teamed up with Monica Manzella, a Center for Homeland Defense and Security master’s degree student and New Orleans Assistant City Attorney, to write the drone policy proposal, reported CBS St. Louis.

Favre looked at the issue from the agencies’ angle and Manzella from the legal side. The report lays out what a model policy, or city, state or federal law, could look like. One challenge is easing the public’s fears about drones.

"We think that it is possible to alleviate some of those public fears by putting checks and balances, by putting safeguards in place, in a regulatory manner," Favre said. “There are some key cornerstone elements about how you store data, about how you use the drones, about the actions that are allowable for drone use."

One major recommendation is that agencies be clear and transparent about the use of drones.

"You build up specific recommendations (in the policy) and you can hand it to the general public and say ‘you are going to see the fire department drone in one of the following times, when this is happening.’ Give some transparency to the operation."

"There is no federal cohesive standard that governs the use of drones for law enforcement agencies," Manzella said. "The regulations that are coming out from the FAA are talking about commercial use and private use of drones."

Not all states have enacted laws governing their use, and those that haven, aren’t consistent, according to the report. In most cases, agencies have to obtain a warrant or court order to fly drones, but there has to be exceptions.

"They (exceptions) would come in if there is an emergency situation that would involve something immediate danger of death or physical injury or threat to national security,” Manzella said. "There are some states that have exceptions that almost nullify the general statement of the rules. We definitely don’t want to make that part of the policy."

Favre and Manzella have submitted their report to to the Department of Homeland Security.

The St. Louis Fire Department is looking at drone use, but hasn’t made a decision yet. Favre says if they do, their policy will closely mirror their report.

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