An ill-fated flight into the safety-drone skies has crashed and burned for a small Minnesota town.
At a recent meeting of the Baxter City Council, a measure that would have permitted local police to seek a $50,000 grant for a drone purchase failed to take flight in a 2-2 tie vote.
Under the plan, a regional public-safety partnership stood to gain three drones for the Baxter Police Department, as well as the nearby Brainerd police and fire departments. The grant would also fund pilot training.
Baxter Police Chief Jim Exsted told the council that investing in a drone would provide enhanced service for taxpayers. “This is the opportunity to develop a program with their dollars. Does this mean we are committing to dollars down the road? Not necessarily,” he said.
Opponents said the city needs to develop more comprehensive rules for drone use by the public and the government before plunging into a large investment.
“I’m just uncomfortable rushing into an actual equipment purchase and a potential program implementation without really seeing the policy first and I know the grant is paying for development of policy,” Council member Todd Holman said. Other council members stated they felt rushed to make a judgment since the police partnership faced a deadline of five days after the meeting.
“I’m not against it, I’m against the (then five-day) Thursday deadline,” Baxter Mayor Darrel Olson said.
Across the state, the marriage of police agencies and drone technology is receiving mixed public reviews. In Rochester, Police Officer Rey Caban is hoping local government will buy a drone for locating missing or endangered person cases, quelling hostage situations and dangerous standoffs or assisting in natural disaster scenarios.
Police Chief Roger Peterson said his initial reaction was “pretty negative” about drone deployment but staff research swayed him to give it a try.
However, a Rochester newspaper, The Post Bulletin, thinks the process should be deliberate and that “too many unanswered questions remain to be able determine whether a drone program would be an asset to the police department or raise too many concerns to make it beneficial.”
“We’re not ready to say yes or no to what could become the state’s first police-drone program. However, we are ready to hear more about it,” a newspaper editorial stated.