Houston police cars were surrounding the land with a roadblock in place to check each of the dignitaries arriving for the invitation-only event. The invitation spelled out, "NO MEDIA ALLOWED."Video is available from Channel 2. The price tag for an unmanned aircraft can be tens of thousands to $1 million each and HPD is hoping to begin law enforcement from the air by June of 2008 with these new aircraft. The Unmanned Aeriel vehicle tested appears to be a Boeing/Insitu ScanEagle which has thousands of hours of service with the military. They can be equiped with both visual and infrared powerful cameras.
HPD Chief Harold Hurtt attended, along with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and dozens of officers from various police agencies in the Houston area. Few of the guests would comment as they left the test site.
News Chopper 2 had a Local 2 Investigates team following the aircraft for more than one hour as it circled overhead. Its wings spanned 10 feet and it circled at an altitude of 1,500 feet. Operators from a private firm called Insitu, Inc. manned remote controls from inside the fleet of black trucks as the guests watched a live feed from the high-powered camera aboard the 40-pound aircraft.
"I wasn't ready to publicize this," Executive Assistant Police Chief Martha Montalvo said. She and other department leaders hastily organized a news conference when they realized Local 2 Investigates had captured the entire event on camera....
Houston police contacted KPRC from the test site, claiming the entire airspace was restricted by the Federal Aviation Administration. Police even threatened action from the FAA if the Local 2 helicopter remained in the area. However, KPRC reported it had already checked with the FAA on numerous occasions and found no flight restrictions around the site, a point conceded by Montalvo.
HPD leaders said they would address privacy and unlawful search questions later.
South Texas College of Law professor Rocky Rhodes, who teaches the constitution and privacy issues, said, "One issue is going to be law enforcement using this and when, by using these drones, are they conducting a search in which they'd need probable cause or a warrant. If the drones are being used to get into private spaces and be able to view where the government cannot otherwise go, and to collect information that would not otherwise be able to collect, that's concerning to me."
Slashdot discussion - "that's a lot of traffic tickets."
Houston Chronicle: This is only a test. I suppose in the event of an actual emergency trust your friendly police.