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Drones in Texas – Arlington Police Given OK For Remote-Controlled Helicopters

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ARLINGTON (CBSDFW.COM) –  In the crowded sky over North Texas, you may soon spot a remote-controlled helicopter.  It’s not just any helicopter — this one is operated by Arlington Police.

“We are really excited,” says Arlington Police Sgt. Chris Cook.

The department has two unmanned helicopters that are equipped with cameras, but not weapons.

Cook says they will help officers in hazardous situations, such as the tornadoes that blew through the city last April.

He says they can take video and pictures of the area, and then have commanders view it before sending in officers to assess damage.

The choppers can also be used after a major accident — by taking aerial photos, instead of reconstructing the scene on the ground.

“It’s much, much quicker and we know experience tells us when we have a back-up, we have a freeway shutdown, there’s always a risk of another crash occurring because of the backup,” says Cook.

After two years of training, the FAA has now given the department final approval to use them.

There are tight restrictions:  Police can’t fly them at night, north of I-30, or any higher than 400 feet.

Sgt. Cook says the helicopters must stay in the officers’ line of sight.   “Matter of fact, we also have to notify air traffic control that we’re going to deploy the equipment here.”

Now that Arlington police have been given the green light, some critics are raising red flags, citing privacy concerns.

Attorney Peter Schulte is a former police officer and he specializes in search and seizure laws. “We don’t know what kind of footage they’re going to be recording. How evasive are they going to go, if they get to a situation and they feel they need to go into a window in a house, so to speak, it’s going to be interesting to see if we ever find out about it.  That’s the real privacy concern.”

Sgt. Cook insists, “Our program is not about spying on anyone.  Our program is to make citizens of Arlington safer and ensure the safety of our officers.”

The program costs $200,000, and so far, has been paid for by a federal grant.

(©2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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