Ohio Plans Drones to Hunt Lost Kids as They Bring Jobs
by Mark Niquette
Medina County Sheriff Tom Miller says he understands why some people in northeastern Ohio may be wary about having his department's drone overhead.
“If I have a barbecue in my backyard, I certainly don't need somebody droning over me to see what's going on,” Miller said by telephone from the county of about 173,000. “But if my grandson's missing, or my granddaughter, I would like to think there's technology available that can help us search more quickly to locate them.”
The remote-controlled, unmanned aerial vehicles used for years by the U.S. against al-Qaeda fighters overseas are poised to become fixtures in everyday U.S. life as law-enforcement agencies, states and universities acquire them, and businesses eye potential uses. Their steady advance is forcing governments and citizens to grapple with the consequences and opportunities created by the culture of surveillance.
Even as the Federal Aviation Administration works to incorporate drones into U.S. airspace for civilian uses, and states such as Ohio plan to become leaders in their manufacture, lawmakers in Congress, states including Virginia and local governments are weighing limits to preserve privacy.
“Drones have the potential to be transformative technology,” Ryan Calo, a professor at the University of Washington School of Law and a former director at the Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society, said by telephone from Seattle. “There will be some people who will never get used to the idea of inscrutable flying robots watching, but I think for many, they'll come to accept this technology.”
Congress has directed the FAA to develop policies and procedures to integrate unmanned aircraft by 2015. Until then, government entities must obtain the agency's approval before flying drones, and there were 327 active permits through Feb. 12, the agency said.
In Ohio, applicants include the Medina sheriff's office and the state Transportation Department, according to the response to a public records request from the Electronic Freedom Foundation. There are also universities such as Sinclair Community College Dayton, which said it has one of the first commercial drone simulator labs in the U.S. and a program to certify students for employment.
The Buckeye State is creating an Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center and Test Complex near Wright-Patterson Air Force Base outside Dayton. The state is also banding together with Indiana in a joint application for one of the six U.S. sites the FAA will approve for drone research and testing, hoping to attract companies and jobs.
“If you're building unmanned vehicles, that's the vehicle of the future,” Governor John Kasich, a first-term Republican, told reporters Feb. 13 in Columbus. “No question about it, it could bring a lot of jobs to Ohio.”
Drones can be equipped with high-powered cameras and sensors, and unlike the larger military drones with weapons systems, unmanned vehicles for civil and commercial use can be about the size of model airplanes. They can help farmers monitor crops, news organizations cover events, and fire departments respond to disasters.
Paparazzi will use drones to get their celebrity photos, and other potential uses are studying weather and even flying over golf courses to see what fairways need to be watered, said Matt Waite, a professor of journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who established the Drone Journalism Lab in November 2011.
“A lot of the things that people want to do with UAVs are things that they've always wanted to do but couldn't because manned aircraft would just make it prohibitively expensive,”Waite said in a telephone interview.
The Ohio Transportation Department wants to use its $15,000 drone to map road and bridge projects instead of using a manned aircraft that costs as much as $500 an hour.
The agency's drone is made by senseFly LLC, a unit of Paris-based Parrot SA. The Swinglet CAM weighs 1 pound (half a kilogram) with a wingspan of about 2.5 feet (80 centimeters), spokesman Steve Faulkner said by e-mail. The remote-controlled device, made of plastic foam, travels as fast as 22 miles (35 kilometers) an hour and has a battery life of 25 minutes, he said.
The Ohio transportation drone is grounded until the agency develops policies for using it and addressing privacy concerns, Faulkner said. It's parked in a cubicle at the agency's district offices in Toledo, he said.
Bills have been introduced in at least 18 states to limit or regulate drones, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The City Council of Charlottesville, Virginia, voted Feb. 5 for a two-year moratorium on the use of drones, and a day later both the state House of Delegates and Senate passed bills to delay the use of unmanned aircraft by law-enforcement and regulatory entities until 2015, except in emergencies.
Police should have to get a warrant in most cases before sending up a drone to “peep into our lives,” said Virginia Senator Donald McEachin, sponsor of the legislation and chairman of the Democratic caucus.
“The founders never imagined a robot that could sit above your home, take pictures, hear sounds, even detect smells and send them back to a home base,” McEachin said by telephone from Richmond.
Miller, the 63-year-old Medina County sheriff, said his department's drone -- which looks like a helmet attached to four propellers on rods -- hasn't been used for missions yet while deputies are trained to operate it. The vehicle will be used only for search-and-rescue efforts and never for surveillance, he said.
That's not enough, because good intentions can lead to misuse of drones without laws governing them, said Amie Stepanovich, a lawyer at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a nonprofit group in Washington that monitors technology and civil liberties.
Part of the challenge is that the word “drone” conjures images of killer robots and spying machines because of its military uses, said Kent Wingate, 62, who is chairman of the Aviation Technology Department at Sinclair Community College and a retired Air Force flight-test engineer. Used properly, the devices -- which he prefers to call unmanned aerial systems --can be indispensable in peacetime, he said.
“They turn it into this bad connotation of this drone that's going to spy on you, and it's going to follow you around in your car and take pictures of you and take pictures of your family,” Wingate said. “It's such a negative and wrongly portrayed to the public.”
The FAA estimates there may be about 10,000 active commercial drones in five years. Annual spending on unmanned aerial vehicles worldwide will almost double to $11.4 billion in the next decade, according to an April 2012 report by Teal Group Corp., a defense industry consultant based in Fairfax, Virginia. Major drone makers today include Northrop Grumman Corp., based in Falls Church, Virginia; General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., in Poway, California; and AeroVironment Inc., in Monrovia, California, according to Teal.
The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, an Arlington, Virginia-based trade group, projects that more than 70,000 U.S. jobs will be created in the first three years of drone integration, with more than 100,000 jobs by 2025, Melanie Hinton, a spokeswoman, said by e-mail.
Trace Curry, a 24-year-old student from Dayton who has studied unmanned aerial systems at Sinclair college, said he's confident he'll be able to earn a good living.
“I see this as something that in 50, 60 years, my grandkids will be able to just walk outside and say, ‘Hey, there's a UAS flying around,'” Curry said. “And to think that I would be someone who contributed to that, that's really something that keeps me going.”
Delray police aim to clean neighborhoods one problem at a time
Problem Oriented Policing Unit redefining how police interact with residents
by Brett Clarkson
Delray Beach — There's a certain defiance in the way the kid pedals ever-so-slowly ahead of the patrol car. Officer Luis Skeberis rolls to a crawl.
"This guy right here; we know he breaks into houses," Skeberis said, noting the teen's "Sideshow Bob" haircut. "I've caught him breaking into houses."
This is Osceola Park, one of about seven neighborhoods patrolled by the Delray Beach Police Department's Problem Oriented Policing unit.
Formed in 2010 with three officers, the unit has since grown to six members and is redefining how police in Delray interact with residents and fight neighborhood crime, officers say.
In Osceola Park, crime has fallen since the unit moved into the area last year. Residential burglaries dropped from 29 in 2011 to eight in 2012. Assaults, robberies and thefts also declined, according to Delray Beach police statistics.
In other areas, changes are also happening but a mixed pace, according to the unit's 2012 annual report. While some crimes were down sharply in some neighborhoods over 2011, other offenses remained static or increased slightly.
"We're on top of it," said Sgt. David Weatherspoon, unit supervisor. He says officers are constantly aware of any crime trends because they're plugged into the communities.
"We go into areas that have crime and quality-of-life issues and we address them through the help of the homeowners and the residents that reside in that area," Weatherspoon said.
And while the unit deploys what some would call community policing to build trust, officers also run the gamut of investigative work. They write up warrants, conduct surveillance, take part in raids, and arrest suspects. If necessary, they'll enlist non-law enforcement help to combat crime.
"We basically fight crime tooth and nail with everything we have," said Skeberis, 27, who joined Delray police in 2007 after serving in the U.S. Navy.
In a recent case involving a notorious drug house on Southeast Third Avenue, the unit worked with code enforcement and the property owners to have the residents evicted. Police found an elderly man living in a trash-filled shed out back — the dealers had taken over the house.
"He was in bad shape, we actually ended up taking him to the hospital," Skeberis says of the man.
Face time is also huge for the unit. Unit officers spend weeks going door to door in their assigned areas, introducing themselves to residents. They collect email addresses, send email blasts, and talk one-on-one with residents. Skeberis says he often gets calls on his cellphone.
Roy Pollard, 57, of the Rainberry Woods community, talks to Skeberis by phone during a recent weekday afternoon patrol. He says the community pool and tennis courts were problem areas and that residents would find drug paraphernalia and condoms littered there.
"There were all kinds of things happening," Pollard said. "Now it's clean because they cleaned it up."
Not everybody is a fan of the police presence. On one of the avenues north of Atlantic Avenue, one man shouts an insult as a police car drives by. It's not uncommon to be cursed at and flashed gang symbols while doing the rounds, officers say.
In Osceola Park, Southeast Second Avenue was a hotbed for drugs, alcohol and loitering by the time POP Unit officer Christopher Merk was assigned to the area in February 2012.
In July 2012, residents and police staged a neighborhood cleanup and picked up eight cubic yards of trash. Things began to change.
The stats are favorable and Skeberis wants to keep things that way.
He turns his cruiser on to Second Avenue. The skinny kid on the bike steers out of the way as Skeberis catches sight of a guy named Red and his female friend.
"Hi Sweetie!" shouts the woman to the patrol car.
Skeberis, who often looks at people's hands before their faces, sees Red clutching a juice bottle. Red is warned: If it's alcohol, he better dump it. Red empties the bottle on to the pavement.
"I let them know, that's not going to happen around here," Skeberis says. "The residents don't want it."
Cyber criminals masquerade as the ICE Cyber Crimes Center to extort money from web users
WASHINGTON — Online scammers have employed a new hoax to extort money from web users in the name of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Cyber Crimes Center. The latest version of this scam – which has imitated the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center in the past – lures victims to a drive-by download website, at which time ransomware is installed on the user's computer. Once installed, the computer freezes and the user is warned that their computer has been blocked due to federal criminal violations. The user is then told they must pay the ICE Cyber Crimes Center $400 within 48 hours to have their computer unlocked.
This is a hoax – not a legitimate communication from ICE. If you have received this message, do not follow the payment instructions.
Instead, it is suggested that you:
- File a complaint at www.IC3.gov
- Keep operating systems and legitimate antivirus and antispyware software updated.
- Contact a reputable computer expert to assist with removing the malware.