Drones, officer investigations up for vote in Senate

Published 9:51 am Friday, April 24, 2015

ST. PAUL— Law enforcement agencies would be banned from using drones without a warrant except in certain emergency situations under a bill up for a vote in the Senate on Thursday, a step toward setting the first set of guidelines for unmanned aerial vehicles.

The new drone regulations are just one piece in a grab-bag of policy changes that would also mandate external investigations for officer-involved deaths and restore voting rights to felons after they’re released from prison. A vote was expected later Thursday.

Minnesota lawmakers started charting a course for drone regulations before the legislative session began, sensing a need to weigh in before their use expands — particularly into police and sheriffs offices. The bill requires local governments to sign off before law enforcement agencies purchase a drone and then requires a search warrant in order to collect images except in emergencies, rescue missions, natural disasters or suspected cases of terrorism.

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After a spate of officer-involved deaths nationwide, the bill also tries to head off concerns about the integrity of officer investigations by mandating an outside probe.

“In some communities, there is a lack of confidence in the agency investigating itself to determine whether or not police misconduct occurred,” said Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park.