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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Local Police Being Federalized: Seattle Police Secretly Keep Drones Despite Promise

Anyone donning a tinfoil hat with defogger can reasonably conclude that the Seattle Police Department has now all but been federalized; public political disclaimers not withstanding. Just another tool to protect themselves from disobedient citizens with our own tax money.

by Mikael Thalen
March 26th, 2014  

Draganflyer X6 (Youtube)
A Freedom of Information Act request published Tuesday revealed that the Seattle Police Department has secretly kept two surveillance drones despite assuring residents that they would return them to their vendor last February.

In 2010, Seattle police used federal grant money from the Department of Homeland Security to quietly obtain two Draganflyer X-6 surveillance drones as well as flight training for select officers. After a 2012 lawsuit from the Electronic Frontier Foundation revealed the acquisition, public outcry ensued.

While attempts were made by the embattled department to quell public concern, former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn ordered an immediate halt to the program in early 2013, also announcing that both drones would be returned to their vendor.

“Today I spoke with Seattle Police Chief John Diaz, and we agreed that it was time to end the unmanned aerial vehicle program, so that SPD can focus its resources on public safety and the community building work that is the department’s priority,” a statement from the former mayor reads.

Now, a FOIA request regarding the axed drone program has produced a telling response from Seattle Interim Police Chief Harry Bailey.

“As of the date of this correspondence the Seattle Police Department has not returned the unmanned aerial surveillance drones and therefore does not have any responsive documents in regards to packing slips, receipts for shipping, etc.” Bailey wrote.

“Additionally a comprehensive search of the email archive was conducted using the terms ‘return’ and ‘drone’ resulting in no responsive documents. Finally a separate search was conducted by SPD personnel for any documents, memo, etc. between SPD and the Mayor’s office or UAV manufacturer using the search terms ‘UAV’ and ‘UAS’ and that search also resulted in no responsive documents.”

Although a 2013 statement from the department claimed that the DHS refused to take the drones back, residents are questioning why Seattle police have held on to the drones for more than a year.

The Seattle Privacy Coalition, one of Washington state’s most prominent civil rights groups, noted that the drones are only one part of a much more concerning issue;  the SPD’s surveillance war chest.