Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio confirmed on Monday that he wants to acquire unmanned drones for the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department, arguing that he would fund the purchases in part through money seized in drug busts.
“Isn’t it great?” Arpaio told KNXV-TV. “It would be the criminals buying these to arrest more criminals.”
According to Arpaio, he is looking to buy two unarmed drones, but did not identify which kind. He also denied they would be use to arrest undocumented immigrants.
“We may use them go find dope peddlers coming into the United States,” Arpaio explained to KNXV. “We make many drug seizures. We’re only 70 miles from the border. But we are not going out to look at people coming into our country thinking they may be here illegally.”
Instead, he argued, one would be used to hover over the area jails under his jurisdiction, as he has complained about “small problems with people throwing drugs over the fence.” The other would be deployed for search-and-rescue operations. Arpaio also dismissed concerns over privacy, telling KNXV, “Privacy in the jails? Privacy for criminals, privacy for those with drugs? They better watch out.”
Arpaio’s plan would need to be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, with funding provided by seized money, donations to his civilian “posse,” and what KNXV described as “government discounts.”
Update, 9:01 p.m. EST: Alessandra Soler, executive director for the American Civil Liberty Union’s (ACLU) Arizona chapter, told The Raw Story via email that Arpaio’s office should ensure its use of drones is discussed and regulated before coming into play, given his “history of ignoring the law to advance his own political agenda.”
“Drones can be used for legitimate purposes—to search for a missing person or fight a forest fire, for instance,” Soler said in her email. “But they also are extremely powerful surveillance tools that can be easily abused. At a minimum, we need to ensure that a probable cause warrant is required for law enforcement to use drone surveillance in court.”
Watch KNXV’s report, aired Monday, below.