Indiana’s two largest police departments want drones to help monitor large gatherings or monitor traffic at large events, but state law restricts drone usage.
The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department and Indiana State Police are both looking into acquiring drones. At least 10 Indiana police agencies own drones.
Indiana law specifies that police departments are allowed to use drones for search-and-rescue efforts, to record crash scenes and to help in emergencies, but otherwise a warrant is required in order to use a drone. That means police likely won’t be able to fly them near large gatherings unless a terrorist attack or crime is feared.
The drone restrictions aim to protect people from unreasonable searches.
“Without that law, the Fourth Amendment doesn’t protect us as much as one might think it would,” said Shawn Boyne, a law professor at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law.
Some residents have expressed concerns that drones could be used to peak into their homes or backyards, but officers have emphasized their respect for the public’s privacy.
“We’re not just going to be throwing them in the air willy-nilly, flying over people’s backyards to see if they’re growing marijuana,” State Police Capt. David Bursten said. “We’re going to have to have a warrant — as we should — and be able to articulate why we’d be flying in an area.”
Northern Indiana’s Noble County Sheriff’s Department used a drone in March in order to locate a man who had refused to pull over for a traffic stop and then ran into a cornfield.
Deputies said that mission took 20 minutes but without the drone it might have taken hours.
Without the drone’s aerial view, “he probably would have gotten away that night,” Deputy Brandon Chordas said.
The Warrick County Sheriff’s Department in southwest Indiana has used its drone mostly at crash scenes, said Chief Deputy Michael Wilder. He said the drone footage helps his officers reconstruct major crashes and provide aerial photos of crime scenes.
The Federal Aviation Administration also has a set of guidelines and certification levels for drone usage.