New Bill Proposes Extended Use of Drones for Tennessee Law Enforcement

Knoxville, Tennessee – Law enforcement in Tennessee could have an extended use of drones if a new bill is passed. State Sen. Becky Duncan Massey (R-Knoxville) believes that providing law enforcement with more tools will enhance public safety. House Bill 1620 seeks to maintain the laws passed in 2021 regarding the usage of drones. This bill would allow law enforcement to utilize drones to investigate crime scenes, respond to natural disasters, and assist in emergency situations. However, preemptive use of drones to establish probable cause, issue search warrants, or make arrests would be prohibited. Additionally, any data collected by drones would be deleted after 15 days, unless it is required for a criminal prosecution.

The bill stipulates that law enforcement can use drones without a search warrant if they are operated within federal aviation rules. In such cases, drones can be used to investigate crime scenes, provide aerial coverage during natural disasters, or enhance security with the consent of the property owner. The Knoxville Fire Department (KFD) has been utilizing drones for over a year to support firefighting efforts and improve outcomes in fire investigations. KFD, along with the Knoxville Police Department, employs drones equipped with Forward Looking InfraRed (FLIR) technology to locate hot spots in fires and plan response strategies.

While law enforcement officials believe that drones are valuable tools for reducing response time, they emphasize the importance of respecting privacy rights. Mark Willbanks of the Knoxville Fire Department assures that privacy is always a paramount concern and that they strive to operate within the boundaries of the law. Senator Massey remains hopeful for the bill’s passage and believes that its provisions for privacy protections and potential to save lives should garner support. However, the bill’s fate ultimately rests with the house, its own independent decision-making body.