(Courtesy of City of St. Paul)
The St. Paul City Council is considering an ordinance that would allow the St. Paul Police Department to use unmanned aerial systems for law enforcement.
Members of the Macalester-Groveland Community Council and the City Council have voiced concerns about privacy and the lack of public outreach and communication by the police department and city officials before considering the ordinance.
The St. Paul Police Department acquired five drones in April and is now seeking approval from the city council to use them. The department spent over $35,000 on the systems, according to a report by the Star Tribune.
The city has held public hearings regarding the proposal, but they’ve been poorly attended. According to Police Cmdr. Ryan Murphy, using drones “will significantly reduce the exposure of responders to life and safety risks and ultimately better protect the community.”
Drone usage is not rare in Minnesota; according to a 2021 report by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, 76 agencies use drones, including the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office, the Bloomington Police Department and the Minnesota State Patrol. The same study estimates that in 2020, the cost of running drone programs across the state was more than $900,000 and the drones were used 1,171 times without a warrant.
The majority of the uses were for police training purposes, with the second most being “during or in the aftermath of an emergency situation that involves the risk of death or bodily harm to a person.”
Minnesota law requires all departments that use a drone to report when a drone is used without a warrant, the date of deployment, the authorization of each deployment, and the total cost of the annual use of the program. It also prohibits the use of facial recognition software or weapons.
The St. Paul Police Department is accepting comments on the proposal at https://www.stpaul.gov/uas.