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Kirby: Face to face with an unmanned police drone

Published April 30, 2013 10:47 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Imagine for a moment that you're in the privacy of your backyard harvesting 100 pounds of high-grade weed intended for the personal use of a nearby high school student body.

Or maybe you're burying a former spouse, or have a missing child locked in a dog kennel. Anyway, you're doing something the police might consider at least partially their business.

Suddenly you notice a faint whirring sound. You look up and there's an X-50 Hawk Gawk unmanned police drone hovering directly overhead. Smile. You're on "America's Most Felonious Videos."

As disconcerting as that might be, it wouldn't necessarily come as a surprise, right? Hey, you're up to no good. Why wouldn't the cops be trying to look over your shoulder?

But now suppose that all you're doing in the backyard is sun-bathing your personal parts or mowing the yard in a tutu. Would you want cops monitoring that personal behavior with an aerial Trooper Snooper MK IV?

Probably not, but you need to be prepared. Police agencies in America are looking at acquiring aerial drones for law enforcement.

Unmanned drones are just the latest in technology being used by the government to monitor our behavior. Our cell phones, credit cards, vehicles and cameras can already be used to keep track of us from one minute to the next.

Alarmists will say that all this technological monitoring should be denied to the police in order to protect the privacy of citizens. The only thing that could come of such invasive spying is an unconstitutional police state.

They'll say this right up to the point where their kid is locked in the trunk of the car of some pedophile on the run, and then they'll want cops unconstitutionally monitoring the hell out of him.

I already live in a police state. My behavior and movements are closely monitored by a regulatory agency called marriage. I'm so used to it that it no longer bothers me. In fact, I prefer it.

That said, I'm not a big fan of police aerial monitoring of private citizens. Watching people remotely is a great way of making them not people.

Unmanned aerial drones wouldn't be as effective as you might think. I know because I used to be one.

I was, too. I was a ground-based drone. Basically, I droned around in a police car remotely "piloted" by a dispatcher and a watch commander. Whenever the mood suited them, they would deploy me to pry into people's personal lives.

I could look into backyards, over fences, into parked vehicles and — if you were stupid enough to leave your curtains open while doing something embarrassing or illegal — I could even see into your home.

Because cops walking a beat 100 years ago could do these exact same things, the only real advanced technology involved was the use of a radio to tell me where to go. And I was just cynical and indifferent enough about it to qualify as unmanned.

But there was an inescapable human element in dealing with people on this level. No matter how "unmanned" I got, I could never completely shake the human element in a face-to-face environment.

Technology is slick and easy and can teach us all how to do our jobs more efficiently but if we're not careful, it can also cause us to forget why we're doing it.

Robert Kirby can be reached at rkirby@sltrib.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.