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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Police departments in Tennessee have been using drones for several years. In some cases, no search warrant is required.

A new law that took effect on July 1 made this practice permanent. News 2 spoke to law enforcement officials about how they plan to use drones without violating people's privacy.


Working in the police force can be dangerous, but law enforcement officials believe that evolving technology can create a buffer between officers and dangerous criminals.

“If a drone is shot down, we can replace it,” said Lt. Michael Foster of the Spring Hill Police Department. “But if a police officer is shot, that's a whole different story.”

Foster said his department has four drones. Each drone is a different size, cost and use case.

“This device gives us an extra pair of eyes in certain situations,” Foster said. “You can put it in a mode where you can see the heat signature of a person giving off body heat.”

On July 1, House Bill 1620 became law. This bill expanded a law that allowed law enforcement to use drones in various investigations without a warrant.

“This simply removes the time limit for the use of drones under the current parameters already established by law,” said Republican Representative John Gillespie of Memphis in the House of Representatives.

These parameters allow law enforcement agencies to deploy drones without a warrant when time is of the essence. Examples include hostage situations, escaped refugees, missing persons, or natural disaster relief.

Representative Justin Pearson (D-Memphis) raised concerns about data protection during the House debate on the bill.

“How do we protect the identities of our children and our communities in these cases when they are not the alleged perpetrators of the crime,” Pearson said.

“Drones are essential to police and fire departments across the state,” Gillespie responded. “They have been using them for years, mostly in a responsible manner. Again, I would ask you to maybe check with your local police or local law enforcement agencies to see what their policies are.”

Foster said Spring Hill's drone policy is clear: caution should be exercised when executing search warrants.

“If we have time, 99 percent of the time — probably 100 percent of the time — we're going to get the warrant and use the drone,” Lt. Foster said. “We definitely don't want to be the agency that screws it up for everyone else and creates bad law enforcement. We don't want that.”

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