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Controversial Police Drone Inches Closer To Flight In San Jose

SAN JOSE (KCBS) -- After several community meetings, a San Jose city commission has decided to endorse use of a police drone. The pilot project still needs approval from the city council, but this marks an important step for police in getting the public to buy in.

San Jose's Neighborhoods Commission is endorsing the device but only for a 12-month test. The commission agreed with the police department that the unmanned aerial system could be an important tool for police. For some, the recent death of San Jose Police Officer Michael Johnson in March highlights the need to look for new ways to keep cops out of unnecessary danger.

Johnson was killed when a suicidal man opened fire on approaching police from his apartment balcony. Drone advocates say the officers would have been better equipped to deal with the situation if they'd had a bird's eye view of what waited for them inside that apartment.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo is one of those advocates, "We're a city that wants to do whatever it can to protect our officers. We know that their lives are at risk every day, that they're trying to protect us, and we know that more needs to be done." Liccardo said.

But not all parties agree. Civil rights groups have raised concerns about the drone being used to spy on citizens.

In this regard, the San Jose Police department didn't exactly start out on the right foot. The department quietly applied for the federal funding needed to purchase the drone without public input in what some saw as a deliberate attempt at secrecy.  The move brought widespread criticism and prompted an apology from the department.

But now they're trying to push forward with a gentler message and a promise, that drones can save lives and they will not use it for general surveillance.

Either way, the drone's path to actual in-service flight will be a long one. The San Jose City Council projects that if they were to give the project the thumbs up, the drone wouldn't actually hit the skies until 2017 at the earliest.


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