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Rouson Seeks Weapons Ban On Crowd-Watching Drones

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Washington State House Republicans
The Florida Channel
A Florida represenative wants to make it legal for police to use drones. But another elected official doesn't want police to arm the unmanned devices.

Law enforcement could use drones to monitor large crowds for safety and security but the unmanned devices couldn't be equipped to fire on crowds, under a proposal filed Thursday by Sen. Darryl Rouson, D- Tampa. 

Rouson’s proposal (SB 132) creates an exemption to state law so that drones could be used to monitor large-scale events --- defined in the bill as comprised of more than 10 people --- for evaluating crowd size, assessing public-safety vulnerabilities, determining staffing levels for public-safety personnel or identifying possible criminal activity.

Under Rouson’s bill, drones used to monitor crowds may not be used to fire projectiles or be equipped with “tear gas canisters, stun gun technology, or any other dangerous or deadly weapon.”

A 2013 Florida statute bans law enforcement agencies from using unmanned aerial vehicles for surveillance or evidence gathering.

The law allows a judge to issue a warrant allowing the use of drones if there is a "high risk of terrorist attack" or if officials fear someone is in imminent danger.

Rouson’s bill was filed after House Republican Rep. Clay Yarborough introduced legislation (HB 75) that would allow law enforcement agencies to use drones for crowd control and traffic management. 

Under Yarborough’s proposal for the 2019 legislative session, which begins March 5, law enforcement agencies would also be able to use drones to collect evidence at crime scenes and traffic crashes, while other state agencies and local governments could use the unmanned craft to assess damages from floods, wildfires and other natural disasters, or for land management.