Drone Industry: Unmanned Aircraft May Have Saved Lives in Dorner Standoff

Drone industry representatives suggest that drones may have made the Christopher Dorner standoff safer.

A highway patrol officer guards a roadblock on Highway 38 near Angeles Oaks during a standoff with fugitive ex-cop Christopher Dorner, near San Bernardino, Calif., Feb. 12, 2013. Nobody has yet been found in a burnt-out mountain cabin where Dorner was believed to have barricaded himself.
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Representatives from the drone industry say that if San Bernardino police had used a drone during Tuesday night's standoff with rogue police officer Christopher Dorner, lives might have been saved.

"Had a [drone] been able to be used in that environment, who knows what could have happened," Peter Bale, chairman of the board for the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, said at the organization's annual program review in Virginia. During the standoff, Dorner allegedly shot two police officers, killing one. Human remains believed to be that of Dorner have reportedly been found in a cabin that was burned to the ground.

Bale said that the Federal Aviation Administration has been pulled into uncharted territory by privacy advocates, which has slowed widespread use of drones. Various government entities have passed bills which would limit the use of drones in their jurisdictions

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"We believe the FAA should focus on their core mission, which is safety," he said. Approval of further drones has been "delayed many months because the FAA is being pulled into the privacy debate."

Last weekend, several news reports suggested that the Los Angeles Police Department was using U.S. Customs and Border Protection drones to search for Dorner, who allegedly killed at least two police officers and led police on a multi-day manhunt through four southwestern states. That report was later denied by Customs and Border Protection officials. Monday, Dorner was chased to a cabin in Big Bear, Calif., where he allegedly shot two police officers, killing one. There have been no indications that a drone was used in the standoff, and requests for comment from the San Bernardino Police Department were not immediately returned.

Bale says drones have a variety of beneficial uses and said they were used during last week's hostage standoff in Alabama.

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"We believe this technology can be used responsibly, in accordance with existing law," he said. "Many people don't know a [drone] was used during the hostage situation in Alabama last week."

Jim Williams, director of the Unmanned Aerial Systems Integration Office at the FAA, said drones do have beneficial uses, but it's important for the agency to move slowly to make sure all privacy concerns are addressed.

"The public is concerned, they fear data captured by [drones] could be misused and violate their rights," he said. "The privacy issue has become so pervasive" that the agency had to get involved.

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