The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office is weeks away from launching an unmanned aerial asset to help deputies fight crime. The ShadowHawk helicopter is six-feet long, weighs fifty pounds and fits in the back of an SUV.
“We can put it over a fire, put it over ahazmat spill, put it over a house with a suspect barricaded inside and literally give the incident commander the ability to look at the entire scene with a bird’s eye view, ” Chief Deputy Randy McDaniel said.
Sheriff’s deputies will fly the ShadowHawk with nothing more than a laptop computer and a remote control similar to that used for video games.
It’s equipped with an infrared camera that can clearly read a license plate from an elevation of twelve hundred feet. The helicopter cost upwards of $300,000 and was purchased with a grant from the federal government.
Vanguard Defense Industries built the helicopter. The company has also supplied aerial assets to US forces over seas.
Critics argue the drone-like vehicle isn’t safe, because it’s unmanned.
“I gotta tell you, it sort of looks like boys and their toys, ” said Terri Burke, Executive Director of the ACLU of Texas. “We’re giving up our privacy, we’re letting the government have way too much power.”
The ACLU is concerned that technology used by law enforcement officials in general is getting ahead of people’s privacy. No one has complained to the ACLU about the Montgomery County helicopter, but some fear it could be used to spy on people.
“The Constitution spells out very clearly that we have a right to privacy, ” Burke said.
“This sheriff’s office has better things to do with its time then spy on people, ” McDaniel argued. "That’s not our mission. The only way that it’s going to be an invasion of their privacy is if they are committing some type of a criminal act where we might utilize this to catch them.”