Letter: Should APD’s drones monitor public gatherings?

Graphic by Lori Deaton

[Regarding “Look Up: How Are Drones Changing the Way Local Departments Operate?” Aug. 9, Xpress:]

One has to be careful when reporting on police department statements and simply taking their word. Across the U.S. and here in Asheville, local police departments have a history of misleading the public to suit their own narrative.

A good example of misleading communication is being used here by the Asheville Police Department: APD chooses to provide an example where its officers assessed an assault suspect, but they conveniently forget to mention that they’re also surveying what seems to be any political gathering that happens in downtown Asheville, regardless of size.

When I was at the Rally for Reproductive Justice and Bodily Autonomy, there was one of their large drones flying overhead. When I was at the May Day Rally, there was one of their large drones flying overhead. When I was at a gathering of about 20 people discussing the force and neck-pinning used against Devon Whitmire? Drone overhead. When the city and county teachers associations gathered to demand higher pay? Drone overhead. In my experience, it’s usually from a healthy distance where it can be hard to hear or spot.

In the article, APD Capt. Brandon Moore states that APD policy isn’t “designed to … just throw things in the air to do surveillance on the unknowing public,” but that seems like exactly what they’re doing by surveilling any given public gathering — including, per the article, the city’s Fourth of July festivities.

APD’s drone policy says nothing of notifying the public about drone usage. The only explicit guardrails in the section on Deployments (514.4) are around physical safety and intentional recording of private spaces. It ultimately states, “In all cases, the UAS Program Coordinator and/or UAS operators have ultimate discretion in determining when it is safe and lawful to fly a UAS.”

In terms of Jay Stanley of the ACLU’s concern that we don’t “sleepwalk into a world of widespread aerial surveillance,” we’re already there.

— David Pudlo

Editor’s note: Xpress contacted the Asheville Police Department with the writer’s points and received the following response from spokesperson Samantha Booth: “The Asheville Police Department utilizes unmanned aircraft systems to enhance the department’s mission of protecting lives and property when other means and resources are not available or are less effective. The department adheres to clear guidelines and regulations established by departmental policy and Federal Aviation Administration guidelines to ensure departmental drones are being used lawfully and appropriately. Any use of a UAS will be in strict accordance with constitutional and privacy rights and FAA regulations.”


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3 thoughts on “Letter: Should APD’s drones monitor public gatherings?

  1. kw

    I believe that the APD acted with great courtesy and restraint in dealing with Devon Whitmire. I suggest that everyone watch that entire video. Mr. Whitmire lied and assaulted the officers who gave him every opportunity to act like a decent citizen. I hope that Mr. Whitmire is getting help.

  2. indy499

    Why shouldn’t apd use technology? We’ve run off most of the officers with crap pay. We need technology

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