Local "drone" company demonstrates what public can expect

Local "drone" company demonstrates what public can expect


by BORA KIM / NBC Charlotte

Bio | Email | Follow: @BoraKimWCNC


Posted on March 11, 2013 at 7:57 PM

Updated Monday, Mar 11 at 8:59 PM

MONROE, N.C. -- Condor Aerial Optics out of Monroe provides unmanned aerial vehicles to law enforcement agencies across the country.  Currently, there are more than 100 agencies in the U.S. on its waiting list hoping to get their hands on one of the two drone models it offers.

According to Fred Culbertson, the "Maverick" model is the drone of choice for the Monroe Police Department.

It's a battery-powered rapid response device that can be operated by remote or through a laptop.  It will be equipped with an infrared camera.

Culbertson fired up his other model, the "Condor," in his driveway in Monroe to give NBC Charlotte a glimpse of what the public can expect if and when the Monroe Police Department becomes the first policing agency in the state to use drone technology.

"It's made to find somebody in a search and rescue situation, a lost child in a wooded area, patients that wanders away, and a high-threatened environment -- like if the suspect flees into the woods," Culbertson said.

Unlike military predator drones, Culbertson said drones likely used by most law enforcement will have limited capabilities.

"The system has limited flight times of 45 minutes to 1.5 hours.  Limited camera base system, only good for 100-200 feet above.  We do have thermal technology so we can find people in a wooded environment, or at night.  It's an additional tool law enforcement can put in their tool box to help save lives," explained Culbertson.

The ACLU, however, has cited examples of how drones are being used with more frequency in all parts of the country.

"We've seen stories around the country where drones and other tools that are traditionally seen on a battle field used in ways that may be deemed not appropriate," said Mike Meno, the Communications Director for ACLU of North Carolina.

The ACLU of North Carolina has joined 22 states and last week filed a public records request to 250 law enforcement agencies, including 63 in North Carolina.

"We are asking them what types of equipment they use.  What funding, if any, they have.  We are trying to get a better idea of what is out there to collect data and to see if any reforms are needed," said Meno. "A lot of the problem is this technology and something like a drone is so new, so recently available, that laws don't exist yet to regulate its use."

Meno said technology that allows police to track cell phones or devices that scan license plates fall under the same umbrella when talking about privacy concerns and use of taxpayer money.

"Do they need to obtain a warrant if they use it for surveillance and obtain video and audio?  Is there a limit to how long they can keep that information," asked Meno.

For now, Monroe police don't plan to use its drone until detailed policies are in place.  Culbertson said his company is working to ensure this technology is used only for what it's intended for.

"So we are helping.  We are in the congressional hearings representing law enforcement, trying to put out some guidelines as to how the aircraft can be used so it doesn't invade the privacy issue," he said.