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National News

February 8, 2013

Seattle mayor scraps controversial drone program

SEATTLE — Saying police need to stay focused on “community building,” Mayor Mike McGinn has pulled the plug on the department’s controversial drone program even before it got off the ground.

In a brief statement Thursday, McGinn said he and police Chief John Diaz agreed that it was time to end the program so the Seattle Police Department”can focus its resources on public safety and the community building work that is the department’s priority.”

McGinn said the two drones purchased by the city with federal funds will be returned to their vendor.

When reached for comment, Seattle police referred questions to the mayor’s office. The mayor’s office declined to elaborate on McGinn’s statement.

The announcement came one day after the city held a public hearing on a proposed ordinance outlining restrictions for the department’s drone program, which drew vocal opposition from numerous citizens concerned with intrusions into their privacy. The ordinance was expected to come up for a vote later this month.

The Police Department is among dozens of law-enforcement agencies, academic institutions and other agencies that were given approval last year by the Federal Aviation Administration to train operators in the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, more commonly known as drones. The FAA action came after President Obama signed a law that compelled the agency to plan for safe integration of civilian drones into U.S. airspace by 2015.

The Police Department purchased two 3.5-pound Draganflyer X6 Helicopter Tech drones with money from a regional Homeland Security grant, envisioning uses during hostage situations and search-and-rescue operations and after following natural disasters. One of the helicopters was expected to be used by the King County Sheriff’s Office.

Police said the unmanned systems would allow the city to have some of the public-safety benefits of a manned helicopter without the prohibitive costs.

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