Virginia Beach City Council considering use of drones by police, other departments

Posted at 3:29 PM, Jan 05, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-05 20:28:20-05

Virginia Beach, Va. – During a barricade situation at the oceanfront hotel several years ago, the police department used their helicopter to monitor the situation.

Speaking to city council Tuesday, Deputy Chief Tony Zucaro told them with a drone - they could have done the same thing for a lot less money.

It was one of several examples he gave during a presentation about the possible use of drones in the resort city.

The police department was asked to start doing some research on them several months ago by the deputy city manager.

Zucaro said drones could be used by police for search and rescue, hazmat situations, waterborne operations and possibly SWAT situations.

Although the police department did the research, they're not the only department in the city that would potentially use them.

Showing an example of a high-quality video shot by a drone, Zucaro spoke about using it for tourism purposes and even for other departments like public works.

Drones do have limitations, though.

Zucaro said there's a lot of restricted airspace in the area because of the Navy and airport.

They also couldn't replace helicopters for things like pursuits.

The cost of a public safey drone, which has specialized features, would be about $95,000.  That doesn't include things like training and spare parts.

Mayor Will Sessoms says it seems like a low-cost investment that could do a lot.

Councilman John Moss raised some concerns, though.

One of those was privacy and how they plan to make sure the drones aren't misused.

Zucaro says he understands those concerns.   "This'll be closely guarded and regulated with key supervisor staff using it."

There are still a lot of steps to take before drones would be purchased and put to use.  At this point, city council has asked the police department to figure out specifically which model they would like to purchase and come back with the information.