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Kansas City police use drones to bust criminals

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    KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) — Drone technology is changing the way the world works. Packages are delivered via drone, KCTV5 News operates a drone to bring you the best images we can during breaking news and severe weather, and police are using them more than ever.

So, at a time when the technology is changing every day, what does the future look like?

Officials with the Kansas City Police Department told KCTV5 drones are used in rescue operations, missing people searches, assisting in solving major crimes, and even helping to prosecute killers.

One of the drones used cost nearly $10,000. They each range in price dependent upon cameras attached, size, and abilities to endure severe weather, go into dark places, and much more.

Captain Greg Williams with the KCPD drone program said it’s an invaluable tool since its inception for the department in 2016.

“We had a missing young female, we were able to find her very quickly. We found her, I think, within 10 minutes,” Williams said.

Two years ago, a car was swept away in Indian Creek live on KCTV5. Nobody knew where it went or if anybody was inside. After launching the drone, they spotted the vehicle and were able to begin investigating.

“We wouldn’t have been able to find that car. That was very early on that we realized, okay this is a homerun,” Williams explained.

Right now, Jackson County prosecutors are preparing to use the technology to prosecute the Indian Creek Trail Killer. They’re flying the drone high above the woods, mapping out a lay of the land to build a case against Frederick Scott, who is accused of killing six random people in one year on the trail.

The future of drone technology can be an unmatched tool according to police, but right now, it can only be used with limited vision.

“Legally, we can fly line of sight,” Williams explained.

Because of that, drones are only used as an assist after responding to a crime or disaster.

Captain Williams said the future points toward changing that. The FAA just granted the first license to operate beyond line of sight in only one city so far.

In April, Chula Vista police in California were granted that license to deploy drones up to 40 miles of sight and hover them in the sky waiting to respond to crime and 911 calls.

The Chula Vista police chief calls it a game-changer. In that time, it’s helped them make more than 50 arrests. In the near future, it could be used in Kansas City.

“Not only will it save money, it will save lives,” Williams told KCTV5.

But if abused, having a drone in the sky at all times, could spark a debate about what’s being looked at in your own back yard. Some law enforcement face scrutiny about eyes in the sky.

Allen Rostron is a law professor at UMKC. He said anytime new technology emerges, buzz about privacy takes off.

“There’s a couple sides to it, one is simply the constitutional aspect to it,” Rostron said. “In general, if they just fly over your house and see you doing stuff that’s a crime, you don’t have any protection against that.”

But Rostron said there’s no doubt drones are doing way more good than any possible harm.

“If you have a situation with an active shooter in some area and it would be dangerous for police to get to a certain area, but they could send a drone in there and survey the situation in where the exits are, you’d want people to do that,” Rostron said.

Williams said drones will likely never be weaponized in Kansas City or any police department for that matter.

“That’s not our mission to put weapons or anything. We don’t use it in any aspect where we’re trying to look in anyone’s windows and that’s difficult to do even if you tried to,” Williams said.

KCPD told KCTV5 they are considering applying for a license similar to that of the Chula Vista police in the future, although there’s no clear time table on when that will happen.

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