Blue sUAS Problems and Florida DMS Secretary Accused of Pimping for Skydio
During a Senate Committee meeting in March, several first responders explained the problems with Blue sUAS, and Florida DMS Secretary Pedro Allende was accused of pimping for US-based dronemaker Skydio by Senator Jason Pizzo (D-FL).
The Florida Senate Committee meeting lasted well over an hour. It highlighted the problems with the so-called Blue sUAS and Skydio’s aggressive lobbying against Chinese-made drones, specifically DJI drones.
Several first responders were given the opportunity to speak and address their concerns with Blue sUAS and the consequences of not being allowed to buy and use Chinese-made drones, including DJI drones.
DroneXL has made the video recording from the committee meeting and a cleaned-up transcript available in this article. We believe it is very important to make the drone community and lawmakers around the country aware of the concerns surrounding the current generation of Blue sUAS and the consequences of Skydio’s aggressive lobbying efforts.
Several first responders with extensive drone experience explained in this Senate Committee meeting that Blue sUAS are significantly more expensive, offer far fewer features, cannot be flown in the dark, catch on fire, fall out of the sky, and lack the ease-of-use and reliability that Chinese-made drones, specifically DJI drones, provide.
Phasing out DJI drones before they reach their end-of-life and before Blue sUAS are truly competitive will cost Florida taxpayers around $200 million, hurt the environment, limit disaster response efforts, and put the lives of first responders as well as the lives of missing persons, and others at risk.
The video below is a screen recording of the Senate Committee on Military and Veterans Affairs, Space, and Domestic Security that took place on March 14th, 2023. Courtesy of the Florida Channel.
The following Senators are members of the 2022 – 2024 Committee on Military and Veterans Affairs, Space, and Domestic Security:
- Chair: Senator Tom A. Wright (R)
- Vice Chair: Senator Victor M. Torres, Jr. (D)
- Senator Lori Berman (D)
- Senator Alexis Calatayud (R)
- Senator Jay Collins (R)
- Senator Jason W. B. Pizzo (D)
- Senator Ana Maria Rodriguez (R)
Opening statement from Senator Wright
Chair Wright opens the session with the following statement:
Okay, cabinet members, we will take up tab three, which is discussion of drone usage and regulations. I would like to welcome the panelists who are here today for our discussion on drone usage and regulations. And ask you to please come on up and take your appointed, your recommended seat, and then we’ll take it from there. So, we’ll get you comfortable here.
First of all, I want to thank you all for making the trip to be here today. This is very important for all of us, I believe. I’m going to read you some of my notes from my January 9th meeting because a lot of you weren’t there. Some of you were there, and hopefully, it won’t be too long and too boring.
As we know, we’re here today to discuss drones and government regulations surrounding them. My venture with drones started with Senate Bill 44, a bill that I ran in the 2021 legislative session, to expand the ability of first responders to utilize drones in ways that would increase public safety and enhance the ability of law enforcement and other first responders to safely conduct lifesaving operations.
Following the passage of this law, first responders have been able to expand the usage of drones to increase bystander safety during felony pursuits, identify the location of barricaded and armed suspects, and conduct research and rescue missions and more and many more examples that some of our other speakers may bring up to us today.
The primary reason that I’m here today is to speak because I have worked to craft and pass the legislation. I have never once had the intention of removing any access to any drones that law enforcement has confidently told me, pose no threat and are necessary to continue operating at 100%.
On May 2nd, 2022, I met with the DMS staff (Florida Department of Management Services) to share my concerns about law enforcement agencies potentially losing access to their heavily utilized and much needed drone fleets.
In this meeting, they were told I would be sent a draft of the proposed rule sometimes so that before the first public workshops on the proposed rule, so that any specific issues could be addressed in these workshops. My staff consistently followed up for months, requesting to see the proposed rule and inquiring about the public workshops when they would be held. Being told multiple times that it would be necessary in two weeks. That they would be ready in two weeks.
The public workshops were held off until the last week of September, and the first week of October. With no language for a proposed rule, these public workshops gave no opportunity for individuals to address the very specific concerns that they have about the exclusion of certain drones (i.e., DJI drones). Following the public workshops, my office inquired again about the next steps, and we’re told DMS was on the track to hold a rule hearing in November and officially adopt the rule in December.
With multiple deadlines missed, DMS ultimately published the Notice of Proposed Rule on December 12th, 2022. As the rule stands, we’ll mandate government entities in our state to discontinue the use of any drone manufactured in a country or foreign country of concern. It is my estimation this would require law enforcement agencies, fire departments across our state to throw nearly $200 million worth of DJI drones.
I have continuously been told that this must be done because DJI drones, among other Chinese manufactured drones, pose the security risk of potentially opening a door to China to steal the data on drones or for China to infiltrate the network of government agencies. This rhetoric has become extremely frustrating for several reasons.
First of all, the concern of stolen data is misguided because these (DJI) drones have no proven ability to send any data and to any unknown source while in operation. That data is only sent to the operator in real time and stored on a small onboard micro SD card, that, after operation, is taken out and inserted into an off-network computer, not connected to the internet.
The use of off-network computers also makes it impossible for a drone to create any back doors into a sensitive government server. While, I have been continually told that I am wrong and that these Chinese drones pose a security risk, not one individual or organization has taken my offer to prove me wrong.
Over the last year, I’ve reached out to STEM focused universities, law enforcement agencies, and DMS themselves, asking for any solid proof that there is a truly viable security threat posed by DJI or any other drone manufacturer.
Even in my last meeting on with the DMS on September the 22nd, I was told they have undeniable proof of potential security threats. But after two weeks, I was sent reprints of articles that contain more speculation of proposed threats with no tangible evidence.
While, nobody has had the ability to display tangible as evidence and research that backed these statements or show any cases of a security breach happening, I have personally found multiple sources saying that DJI specifically poses no threat to government entities.
One of these sources was a Pentagon Audit ran by a second Chief Warrant Officer from the US Army Special Operations Command to conduct a technical study on two specific DJI drones. This study concluded that DJI drones provide no malicious code or intent and are recommended for use by government entities and forces working with US services.
The idea of this all being done in the name of security is somewhat puzzling to me because the initial list of approved drones was created for the state with DMS originally rolled out that list on January 1st, 2022, which was simply a copy and paste of the Pentagon approved Blue sUAS list.
My conclusion about the inclusion of these drones has to do with a number of Chinese parts utilized by these drones. An analysis found in the 2020 Department of Defense industrial capabilities reports studied four Blue sUAS drones to identify what percentage of parts came from what country. The study shows that nearly 70% of certain parts come from China.
If China posed such a monumental security threat, why would these drones have been chosen as the initial example of safe drones?
As I have sought to compile this information, it has become apparent to me that the concern around these drones also stems from the desire to not financially support a foreign country of concerns.
My argument to this is that we have collectively already spent an estimated 200 million in Florida on drone platforms that cannot be changed. Throwing these drones away will do nothing to hurt any other country, but will do immense damage to the taxpayers of Florida.
Every drone that is thrown away will need to be replaced and at steep premiums when every agency across the state begins to contact new manufacturers. Not only will demand derive the prices up, but many other manufacturers currently offer drones with inadequate features and higher prices. Again, I will use the initial list of the approved drones that was copied from the Blue sUAS list.
A memo released by the US Department of Interior showed that these (Blue sUAS) drones are eight to 14 times more expensive and only possess 20% of the effective desired equipment that the current DJI drone fleet processes.
Not only will increase drive up prices, but will also potentially extend wait times for whichever drones become preferred by the agencies. If our agencies do not have the money to immediately replace their drones or get on the wait list that might run as high as four to five years.
These agencies will not have the necessary equipment to safely conduct the jobs we ask them to do.
I want to make it clear, I understand the need and importance to buy American. As many of you know, I’ve been a successful businessman for over 48 years, and I pride myself in buying American and every chance that we get. However, there are certain times in life where it’s not possible. For instance, a business that was buying 20% offshore that I purchased, now only buys 3% offshore, but it is not possible for us to get to 0%.
I’ll bring all of this to you today to jumpstart our conversation on drones and how we can ensure that we do not ignore the needs of law enforcement. My desire on the following panel discussion is to bring this critical issue to the forefront of my colleagues in their minds and provide a diverse background on the drone landscape of Florida. Thank you all for listening to this.
Secretary Pedro Allende from the Florida Department of Management Services
After Senator Wright’s opening statement, the five panelists were asked to introduce themselves and discuss the topic of drone usage within their organization and how the various laws, regulations, and rules have either benefited their organization’s activities or hindered them. Secretary Pedro Allende from the Florida Department of Management Services was asked to start. Click here to jump to that section in the video.
Chairman Wright, Vice Chairman Torres, members of the committee. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be here with you today to discuss drone usage and regulations.
The department recently issued its rule on government use of drones as set forth by Statute 934.50. The law required, among other things, that DMS publish a list of approved manufacturers on its website by January 1st, 2022, and that all government agencies discontinue the use of any drone not produced by an approved manufacturer by January 1st, 2023. I’d like to explain our approach to this rule.
The department reviewed the legislative history of SB44 that Chairman Wright introduced during the 2021 legislative session and ultimately passed and was signed into law. The department held three public meetings before publishing the proposed rule and one public meeting after publication.
The department will also convene a working group on the rule’s effective date to assess the implementation of the rule. We have proposed meeting dates for the next two years, and I would like to thank Chairman Wright for the working group idea. There really is no substitute for direct conversations with the individuals, entities affected.
Finally, I commit to continue to be responsive throughout implementation. Although we tried hard to get it right, there may be unexpected applications that we may be able to address. Drones are a leap forward. Although cost savings are one of the benefits, it’s not the primary benefit. Every time an officer, firefighter, or first responder can come home safely, that’s an absolute win.
UAVs allow first responders to scout an area, identify danger and fine Floridians in need faster. And putting a replaceable machine in harm’s way instead of an irreplaceable person is the right call every single time. Today, UAVs can also inspect bridges and buildings that previously required a person to put their faith in the rope that separated them from life and death.
And to be clear, we approached this rule to create every possible flexibility within the law, and we took every single measure that we could to make it easier to use UAVs.
It is equally important to look at this from a geopolitical lens. Florida’s the 16 largest economy in the world by GDP, just behind Mexico, ahead of Saudi Arabia is Switzerland and Israel.
Florida’s home to the 20 major military installations. We have defense contractors here in Florida like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, BAE Systems, Honeywell, Raytheon, and Rockwell. And that doesn’t include the many companies pushing the boundary on space, exploration, finance, technology, and other industries from right here in Florida. And so, as a state, we’re a high-value target.
Florida has droves of information that are adversaries one on both the civilian and military sides, and this can play out in some unexpected ways. In 2008, someone inserted an infected USB drive they found it in the parking lot of a US military base into a computer.
The virus spread from unclassified to classified networks with the capability to transfer data to servers under the control of an unknown foreign adversary. Over the 14 months that followed, the Department of Defense eradicated the virus from its networks. The compromise, however, showed our soft digital underbelly and led to the creation of US cyber command.
Some believe that the USB was left in the parking lot by a foreign intelligence service and that this was, in fact, its intended purpose. The United States and Florida remain world leaders in innovation, and it’s far easier to steal our ideas, designs, plans, and formulas than it is to create them.
Although adversaries and allies alike may want our innovation, former NSA director Keith Alexander has referred to Chinese intrusions into our country to obtain secrets, designs, and engineering as the single greatest wealth transfer and intellectual property transfer in history.
And Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications company, focuses on 5G smartphones, routers, and switches. The United States, Australia, and Japan have banned Huawei from building their 5G networks and war against the use of its products due to cyber espionage concerns and the possibility of back doors that can grant the Chinese Communist Party access to communications or allow the CCP to disrupt them.
In fact, a 2022 FBI investigation found that Huawei equipment can be used to disrupt the US military communications, including communications relating to the US nuclear arsenal. Now, Cisco, a US manufacturer, sued Huawei in 2003 alleging that its source code was present in Huawei products. A jury found Huawei guilty of stealing intellectual property from T-Mobile in 2017.
And in 2020, the Department of Charge of Justice charge Huawei the racketeering and conspiracy to steal trade secrets. Our adversaries are willing to steal our ideas, intellectual property and secrets, and try unorthodox methods like sprinkling USB devices in parking lots, build back doors into their equipment and playing the long game. At times, waiting decades for results.
And should we take the chance at a highly advanced network connected device like a drone, manufactured an innate foreign country of concern is benign. The Departments of Defense, Treasury, Commerce, Interior, and Homeland Security have considered that very question and answered with a resounding no.
So in closing, you know, I’d like to also add that we’ve talked to Sheriff’s special districts and manufacturers. No one’s happy about their equipment being grounded. To a person that we talked to, they understood the risk and were grateful the department addressed this sensibly while opening the market of available drones to competition using our security standard. Thank you.
Cassandra Farley from the University of Florida
After the Secretary introduced himself, Cassandra Farley, Director of Research Integrity, Security, and Compliance at the University of Florida, introduced herself. Click here to jump to that section in the video.
Thank you, Chairman Wright. I am Cassandra Farley. I am the director of the University of Florida’s Research Integrity, Security and Compliance Office. And I also serve as the Research Security Officer for the University of Florida. So, thank you for inviting me here today to participate in this panel.
I’m providing a slightly different perspective from some of my co-panelists. I’m going to speak a little bit about UF’s use of drones and our robust drone program. And I would like to acknowledge and say that I do appreciate the department’s and the secretary’s efforts in this space to help ensure that our networks, our data, our IP remains secure as we continue to do really important work.
So, as many of you may know, UF has a $1 billion research enterprise. And of that, approximately 10 million of our research uses drones as a core research enabler. This research spans work in support of the Department of Defense, Florida Agriculture, protecting Florida’s ecosystems and surveying our coastlines after hurricanes to assess damage.
I’d like to take this opportunity to share just a few of our many projects. First of all, I’d like to talk about some funding we have from the US Army Corps of Engineers. Using this funding, the UF researchers are using drones to map changes in coastal marshes, oyster reefs, and mangroves in St. Augustine, Florida.
Another researcher is partnering with the Florida Department of Consumer Services, FDCS, to use drones to identify marine debris from oyster releases in the Gulf Coast.
We’re also working with the Florida Wildlife Commission to use drones to study the manatee populations and their food availability.
And, in the Everglades, researchers are partnering with Florida Fish and Wildlife to use drones to track Burmese Pythons. The use of drones on this project can reduce the resources needed to find wild pythons and can greatly increase detection and removal of this invasive snake. The snake, which continues to cost Floridians millions of dollars to control and threatens our native wildlife and our Everglades restoration efforts.
So, as you can see, these efforts have a direct and meaningful impact on the state and Floridians. In addition to this Florida focused research, UF also has a robust research program funded by the Department of Defense. This research, which is mostly led by our faculty in the College of Engineering, includes an Air Force Center of Excellence through which UF research team designs and tests custom, autonomous drones for the Air Force.
We are also home to the autonomous vehicles lab, the AVL, located in Okaloosa County right outside England Air Force Base. This AVL program supports the Air Force Research Lab and is how we transition research on drones, and their components, for further development by the research lab.
Because of our extensive drone use, UF has had a drone compliance program for many years in coordination with our export control officer who works within my office. Our UF drone coordinator reviews and approves all drones for purchase and use, and oversees the registration of drone pilots, operators, and approval of drone flight plans, as well as other regulatory compliance matters.
Due to the rising security about some drones, UF restricted purchase of certain drones made by certain Chinese manufacturers starting back in 2021. Our robust research security program means that my office reviews and approves sponsored research, including drone research before agreements are executed, and throughout the life of the awards, we monitor drone use data, street sharing and export regulations as they relate to drones.
With the introduction and implementation of Florida statute 934.50, UF is prepared to update and replace its fleet as required by the pending DMS rules. We expect the cost of replacement to total between one and $2 million. Though that number may change as the rules are modified and finalized.
We look forward to continuing to work with the department and this committee to ensure drones are continued to be used safely and appropriately in support of UF’s research, while also ensuring that our networks and data remain secure. So thank you for your time and I look forward to answering your questions later.
Captain Stacy McIntyre – Division of Investigative and Forensic Services
Captain Stacy McIntyre was asked to speak next. You can listen to him talk here.
My name’s Captain Stacy McIntyre. I’m with the Division of Investigative and Forensic Services. We’re part of the Department of Financial Services. Also included under the Department of Financial Services as the Division of State Fire Marshal also. So, I originally came up to the state through the Bureau of Fire Arson Explosives Investigations, and what we were utilizing the UAS program for was primarily for documenting fire scenes.
A lot of times the structure fires have after the fire has occurred, it’s too dangerous to actually enter on foot. So we can utilize the drones in going into buildings looking at stuff, determining the origin of calls, finding the location of fatalities, bodies, everything that occurs.
Another thing that we utilize the drones for is a lot of people don’t realize the Bureau of Fire and Explosives and the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission. We are the first USAR (Urban Search and Rescue) team that goes to a disaster. Meaning that when the hurricane’s hitting, we are actually going in cutting the holes through the trees so that the other USAR teams can come in behind us while we’re going in.
We have the heavy equipment. One of the things that we do after we get to where we need to get, and the other USAR teams are backfilling us, is we then start checking critical infrastructure. We have engineers that team up with us and as we go out, and we go to all the different critical infrastructure areas.
And I’ll give you an example. After Hurricane Michael, there’s a paper mill in Bay County. Nobody’s there. They were completely wiped out. We had to go over there while the chemical engineer looked and made sure that every single container had what was known as a vapor lock that prevents anything from coming out. That could have been done very easily with the drones during that time.
Also, before we cross any bridges and stuff, you know, we utilize the drones for that and for typical disaster response. Again, looking for people, looking for bodies assessing the damage. Once the Declaration of Emergency is declared by the governor, it opens us up to where we can start surveying general areas without being in violation of the Freedom from Unwanted Surveillance Act.
But primarily using it for, you know, fire investigations, documenting the scenes post blast scenes. Some of you all might remember the large blast in plantation, where the entire strip mall blew up from a gas explosion. We actually were able to utilize the drones to determine what the blast radius was, and we were finding pieces of debris two miles past the area. We could not have done that on foot, you know, without a huge amount of resources.
So, that’s primarily what we use it for. And right now, we currently had 12, 12 UASs that were basically downed by the law coming into effect. Ideally, we were looking for 24, but just to replace the 12 that we have now and that would still be in service. We’re estimating somewhere between 200 to $250,000 just for the replacement of those 12. And if we got to the 24, we’d be looking at twice that, so around half a million.
Sergeant Robert Dooley from the Florida Highway Patrol
Sergeant Robert Dooley from the Florida Highway Patrol was next to speak. Click here to jump to that section in the video.
I’m Sergeant Robert Dooley with the Florida Highway Patrol. I’m our Statewide Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Coordinator. Just a fancy way of saying I run the drone program. The Florida Highway Patrol uses drone technology in a lot of different ways. We’re lucky enough to be a statewide agency similar to the State Fire Marshal where Pensacola to the [Florida] Keys to our playground, and we provide public services all over the state.
The drone technology changed the game for us several years ago, posed by actually chief Tim Roof, who’s in the room. Where he conceived of, you know, how can we utilize this technology to help open up roadways or provide a higher quality level of public service? And we started utilizing drone technology in such a way that it, we couldn’t have anticipated.
One of the first major uses besides the Search and Rescue operation or anything of that nature was the FIU bridge collapse where we were called down there. And it took our investigators hours, if not days, to accurately map and plan out some of that stuff. And in eight minutes and 46 seconds, we had completely mapped everything and got more information in a very timely fashion. That was one of our first realizations that this technology was going to be incredibly useful, and we started to work towards that path.
We utilized it all over the state for search and rescue, supporting our local, state and federal partners all over the state on whatever mission they request. A lot of damage assessment as well. You know, we respond to every single hurricane and natural disaster or any type of manmade disaster.
And we utilize this [drone] technology for all sorts of stuff, but primarily, just to echo my table mate’s comments, is we put the device in harm’s way and obtain more information than putting a human being in harm’s way.
Our goal at the Highway Patrol is to make sure that, again, that we can provide something that we weren’t used to providing. You know, we didn’t have the means to do so with what we were, we had, and this technology’s really changed the way that we conduct a lot of our daily operations; traffic management, situational awareness.
A lot of different things that we do that just. I’d almost describe it as the first person that thought to put a laptop in a patrol car. You know, somebody thought that was like, why would we do that? And now we can’t live without ’em. As police officers, we have so much information right there, and we can get information quicker.
Same thing with drone technology. We can put something in the air, get an aerial perspective. Something that you cannot see from the ground, or you may not be able to get to, especially during hurricane and massive flooding, trees down everywhere. We would drive to locations to answer 911 calls and instead of waiting for a boat or an ATV, we can pop up the drone technology and get eyes on something much quicker.
And then on top of that, we have the capability, just like the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, which is one of the more important key elements to the drone technology. It’s one thing for the pilot to see it, it’s one thing for us to be able to stream that information back to the decision makers, so that the pilots on the ground could actually do their jobs and look for whatever we need to handle.
But we stream that information seamlessly back to either Stadio C (?) or our local commander is, so they can watch some real time and the decision makers can actually make some really quick, logical, well-thought-out decisions.
I know that we’ve got a lot of amazing leadership at the Florida Highway Patrol pushing this [drone] technology forward because of its potential and capabilities. And it just keeps getting better and better. Executive Director Dave Kerner is really a passion about expanding this program.
We worked towards that goal here very recently to increase our capabilities and expand further out throughout the state. But in a nutshell, the Florida Highway Patrol utilized this [drone] technology to really just take that level of public safety to another level. Things that we couldn’t do before.
And especially opening up roadways. I can tell you right now, I’m sure you’ve all been stuck in traffic. So have I and I drive a patrol car. We don’t close the roads on purpose, but if we can take a drone and put it up and map a crash scene in minutes instead of hours to get roadways going,
I put on a presentation most recently at the FAV Summit in Jackson or Orlando, and we talked about how much money it actually costs to keep the road shut down. You know, when we have to conduct an investigation, you’re talking millions of dollars in commerce not moving across the roadways.
So, we’re constantly looking at new technologies, like drones, in order to do stuff like that. Just simply opening up the roads quicker, while still getting all that necessary information. I’ll wait for your questions, and again, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much.
Lieutenant Mike Crabb, Orange County Sheriff’s Office
Next in line is Lieutenant Mike Crabb from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. Click here to watch him speak.
Thank you. Mr. Chair and members. So, Lieutenant Mike Crabb, Orange County Sheriff’s Office. We use the drones in a more urban type atmosphere. And with your help, we worked really hard on Senate Bill 44 to get some added exceptions. So, it’s really been helpful for us.
We’re doing in-progress crimes. We have our, I’ll give you the numbers in just a second, but we have our drones deployed to our watch commanders in the field. So if we get an in-progress crime that’s happening, we can get the drone in the air pretty much immediately and get eyes on. We’ve caught several bad guys that way, so that’s worked out really well.
Same thing, and I appreciate the secretary down there mentioning that that their thought was for officer safety. So, every search warrant now, if it’s not dynamic, a drone gets to send in gets sent in first by the SWAT team instead of a SWAT team member going in. So, there are a lot of advantages that everybody in here knows, and we’ll be needing to speak to some other Senate and legislative members about some more exceptions to help us use the tool as it goes on.
But for now, in our discussion we’re talking about now, I’m an American as well, and I wish that we could buy all American made drones. I’m supportive of the fact if with you, Senator, my Sheriff, is supportive of the fact that if there are national security issues with a DJI drone, then show us what it is. And, we’ll be glad to purchase American. And you’ve already mentioned it, so I won’t repeat it, but there are limitations with American, America made unfortunately, and I’m really sad to say that.
We have a fleet of 25, of which 19 are DJI. So, we actually have a fleet of six, very quickly went from 25 to six. So, we are in the process of purchasing more, and we’re in several million dollars to replace our fleet to get it to where it needs to be.
So, I would just urge the committee and as you talk to your other senators, the importance of drone use, I’m speaking from a law enforcement standpoint, but there are a lot of important uses for that. But the importance of drone use by law enforcement is saving lives. It is important. And as I said, I wish we could buy American, right, right now, immediately. But we can’t. So in this particular case, we’re just asking for a little bit more time to make that adjustment and get out of the DJI market.
Important questions and discussion about drone use, Skydio lobbying, and Blue sUAS
After the five panelists introduced themselves, Chair Wright opened the floor for questions. Senator Pizzo started by asking the following:
Senator Pizzo: Thanks, everybody, for coming in for your presentation, and I also voted for SB44. We put it on the committee a couple of years ago, and I thought it was a really good bill. So, my questions are actually for Mr. Allende. Your presentation was starkly different than others because it sounded like it was like an NSA debriefing talking about the possibilities and things like that. But I just wanted to ask if anyone else wants to chime in. And Captain, thanks for letting me use drones for looking for cats and dogs at Surfside. But are one of these drones actually a security threat or no?
Secretary Allende: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I think the best way to answer that question is to refer to the federal departments that have conducted deep research into this and have banned the use of these drones. The Department of Defense, Treasury, Homeland Security, Interior, and Commerce have all taken issue with the DJI drones. The Department of Defense has placed Shenzhen DJI Innovation Technology on its 126H list and identified it as an instrumentality of the Chinese Communist Party essentially. The Department of Commerce has placed it on its amended export regulation Entity List which is composed of the Departments of Commerce, State Defense, Energy, and Treasury as appropriate. The decisions to add drones to this list are made by a majority vote. Specifically with DJI, the commission, the ERC added it for activities contrary to US foreign and policy interests. Specifically, wide-scale human rights abuses within China through genetic connection and analysis or high technology surveillance.
Senator Pizzo: Here’s my question. Is DJI banned by the Department of Defense of the United States of America?
Secretary Allende: I’m sorry. It is, Senator.
Senator Pizzo: Okay. What other companies are on the banned list, that are possibly being used by some of our law enforcement agencies?
Secretary Allende: Senator, without a specific understanding of the technology that is being used by the Sheriff’s offices, it’d be hard to answer that question.
Senator Pizzo: Gotcha. So, we have somebody here. So, Captain, let me ask you a question. You got 12 drones you need to replace. You said it could be upwards of $240,000, which is $20,000 a drone. What are you using right now?
Captain Stacy McIntyre: Right now, we are using DJI.
Senator Pizzo: Ah, okay. And if you have to replace ’em, it’s going to cost you upwards of 20,000. So, SB44, when it was signed into law basically had like three sort of dates, right? January 1st, 2022, you guys come up with a list of those that are approved, okay? Not disapproved, but approved. And you guys came with a list. By July, all these guys had to hand you over what their plan was for weaning off or winding down from the use of those. And as of two and a half months ago, none of them were supposed to be using DJI anymore, I’d imagine. So what say you about our UAS commander and state fire marshal still using DJI. What’s the…, Is he in trouble is my question? I mean, what, seriously?
Secretary Allende: We’ve issued the rule, and it’s up for publication. It’ll be implemented. It’ll be enforced later this month, early next month. The reality is… not in trouble at the moment. And so…
Senator Pizzo: All right, let me just say, I don’t want to get sort of on an awkward path here. So, let me just kind of ask, practically speaking. The bulk of people and entities relied, you would agree, I think as they had a reliance theory when they were doing procurement. When they were budgeting for things, they weren’t conscious of the fact that there might be some list, you know, that comes out someday, right?
I mean, there’s still people who put little covers over their laptop cameras because they’re afraid to get looked at. You’re wearing an iWatch that was made in Jung Jo in mainland China, right? Probably your phone as well.
So, I’m just trying to like sift. I haven’t bought an American TV since 1987. I’m just trying to sift through and to Senator Chair Wright’s point about 30 to 70% of components of the interior of any of these things, right? 90% of the garlic we consume comes from mainland China. They just package it in California and call it whatever.
Even the companies that are on the approved list. Right. So, is it Altavian? Is one of them Altavian? Is that what I’m talking about? Yeah, because they were bought by Teledyne. Right. And then you look at Teledyne’s institutional ownership, and then we start getting close to people that we’re told not to trust and not to like. Including BlackRock, like owns, like a large section of that.
I’m just trying to figure out and decipher what’s political crap and what’s like real, while these guys are doing their job. Do you have an actual clear and present concern about DJI being used? And here I ask it in this context, and I know that you’ll understand what I mean by this. The limitations of Senator Wright’s bill and SB44 had a stop at the very clear, bright line, sort of US versus cats rule of expectation of privacy, and that which law enforcement couldn’t pierce from a Fourth Amendment perspective.
So, what are you concerned about the Chinese seeing with the DJI drone if the limitations of the use of those drones does not extend into that, which society’s not prepared to recognize that you have an expectation of privacy?
Secretary Allende: I don’t know that I would categorize subsection seven as a Fourth Amendment matter, specifically requested a security standard. And that’s what we read it literally, and that’s how we developed that. I think the concern is that, which I’ve stated, which is opening the data of the networks to compromise. And that’s our consideration in, one of our considerations in, reaching that standard.
Senator Pizzo: Okay. So, what’s the remedy? Because I just, I’m finding it hard to explain how this isn’t sort of a taking or an unfunded mandate that just 12 units alone for Captain Stacy’s going to be 240 grand. I don’t know what UF is using, but they contemplate 1 to 2 million. So if I’m doing a $20,000, you know, I’m not, but like, what do they do? They put these on eBay?
Secretary Allende: In fact, I think some of the vendors have stepped up, and offered trade-in programs. Specifically, Skydio, I learned this morning, is doing just that.
Senator Pizzo: is it like trade in your iPhone?
Secretary Allende: Roughly.
Senator Pizzo: Okay. Okay. But objectively, Ms. Ryan, honestly, okay, you’re asking some people to trade in the technology of a Tesla or a Mercedes, for no offense, for something that’s just not quite as technologically advanced as what they’re trading up for or trading in for.
Senator Pizzo: Okay. But objectively, Mr. Allende, honestly, okay, you’re asking some people to trade in the technology of a Tesla or a Mercedes, for no offense, for something that’s just not quite as technologically advanced as what they’re trading up for, or trading in for.
Secretary Allende: So I would agree with you as to the four on the list. Moving that list to a security standard-based standard can open the market. In fact, we expect it will open the market. It has opened the market. This is my view.
Senator Pizzo: This sounds a lot like people trying to sell me on a special session of property insurance.
Secretary Allende: Proof positive that the market is responding. And so, we would expect that any manufacturer that wants the business of law enforcement, public safety, and so on is going to meet that demand. When we move from four to many, I think we can expect price competition, and feature competition that was unforeseen before.
Senator Pizzo: I’ll yield to others. I may have a couple other questions.
Chair Wright: Anyone else has any questions? So, price-positive. You said the market, sir, is taking in drone trades. Would you be surprised to know that there are people in this audience that have seen a $7,000 per drone price increase on that particular brand (Skydio) since January one? I have the quote.
Secretary Allende: Senator, I haven’t seen it. I’m happy to look at it.
Chair Wright: So what you were handed today was from the representative of that company (Skydio). You haven’t had a chance to review that at all, have you?
Secretary Allende: Senator, I’ve reviewed this. Not the quotes you’re referring to.
Chair Wright: Well, I’ve seen that too today. So, that’s, you know, that’s propaganda.
Senator Pizzo: Alright, Mr. Chair, if I may.
Chair Wright: Yeah, certainly.
Senator Pizzo: Mr. Allende, did you just hold up a piece of paper that was literally just given to you today by a manufacturer (Skydio) and tell this committee that there’s price matching and trade-in deals? I mean, were you, did you just find that out today?
Secretary Allende: Senator, I did not mean to insinuate that there was any price matching. There is literally a trade-in program, and, yeah, I did find this out today. There are others.
Senator Pizzo: Sorry, Mr. Chair, maybe I’ll take my leave at this point. You’re the head of DMS for the State of Florida. The third-largest state in the country. Okay. Who has 180 billion-plus dollars in its pension fund of these brave men and women sitting in 1,508 mainland Chinese public companies.
Okay. No one’s vetting that situation, many of which probably have a piece of DJI. So, I just want to try to get through the (bullshit). President Passidomo’s going to get angry at me. I just wanna sort of sift through and bifurcate the political theater versus reality. You’re sitting in a committee, and you just held up a piece of paper that, that the manufacturer just handed you and represented that to this body,
Chair Wright: Sir. Back and forth.
Secretary Allende: Senator. It was simply an example of the vendor community coming to be responsive to the users. This is just one example, Andoril is another that is offered to buy the inventories to the extent that it makes sense,
Senator Pizzo: Mr. Wright, I, you know, I’m going to take my leave for a couple of minutes, bectause here’s what you don’t do. You don’t come to the Florida State Senate and hand up a piece of paper when the lives of men and women are at risk if we go and use that shit technology. Do you hear what I’m saying? These are men’s and women’s lives. I don’t want to know.
There’s an old joke from Steve Buscemi in Armageddon. He says, you realize when he is going up in the space shuttle, we’re sitting on 2 million moving parts built by the lowest bidder.
Don’t ever do that again. Not while I’m here. When I leave. When I die. When I don’t get elected. You can do that all day long. Don’t ever do that again.
You’re pimping for a vendor (Skydio) right now. Shame on you!
Secretary Allende: Respectfully. Senator.
Chair Wright: Thank you, Mr. Senator. President. Thank you very much.
Senator Pizzo: Are you kidding me?
Chair Wright: So if no one else has any questions, I’m going to ask you some serious questions, Sir. We asked your department from the beginning of January 2022 to have workshops. And they were denied and denied. And denied.
And then, finally, we get workshops, that we stumbled across. We found out that they were there. Six days before the first one was held. And I drove all the way to Tampa myself to sit down in that meeting. Nothing was discussed. Not one person spoke. And yet in your details, you tell me that stakeholders have been asked. Look around the room. These are stakeholders. I don’t think there’s any one of them here that said, yes, we agree with what you propose.
And then, on December 21st, you finally come out with the rule. That’s effective January 1. Nine days before the end of the year. That’s when we kicked in and said, we’re meeting January 9th. And you didn’t show. That really was great respect, as far as I’m concerned. You did not show. And what we talked about that day with these law enforcement personnel was to have a workshop before the final Bill. And your representative said, we will work on that.And you said we would work on that in the letter that I have here with me today. And that didn’t happen.
So, I’m just here to warn you that this bill is not going any further. This bill will be stopped in its tracks. Because DJI. Not you. Not you have shown us any proof. Have you any proof that you can share with this committee? Actual proof. Not somebody’s letter. Actual proof that DJI talks to China and the other drones do not talk to China.
You don’t have it. Or you would’ve provided it to me, months ago. I have proof here from the Pentagon that says they approved DJI. Should we share articles?
Does that iPhone, Sir, I said back and forth? Okay, you have a China watch on, you have a China iPhone on. The men and women of law enforcement carry body cameras, all made in China.
What in the world is wrong with us extending the time to allow these men and women who count on these drones every day that we have a vested interest in with taxpayer dollars to have three to five years to phase them out. Rather than cold Turkey taking them away?
What are we going to do next? Take away their Glocks. Maybe there’s a part in there from China. I don’t know. But that’s where we’re at, Sir. And that’s why we’re calling this hearing today because you have starved me for the whole year. And now you’re quick to say, Senator Wrights Bill 44 is the one that’s caused this. But we never lived up to the workshops that were required. We never lived up to anything else in that bill.
How do you defend that position? No show at the meeting. No workshops. And all of a sudden, rule making. And if it wasn’t for my staff, we wouldn’t have known of the most recent rule making that went in. No one contacted us. You just went ahead and did it. Why? Yes. Go ahead.
Why are you doing this to these men and women? This is just a sampling of the men and women of this state that get up every day, every night to serve us. And you want to take away this tool? I hate to be there the day when we have an officer that died because we didn’t send in a drone that they had because they can’t afford to buy other drones.
And I hate to think of what the Governor’s going to say when he says that the black in the blue doesn’t acquire, doesn’t include that we leave the drones in place. Is that what you want us to have in the newscast? Senator? I know, Secretary, go for it.
Secretary Allende: I first came into this role in July, so I don’t have anything, I don’t… I’m not aware of what my predecessor promised or didn’t promise or what was expected. And so, our procedure was to first take stakeholder input. That was the purpose of the three workshops. Where there was a fourth that was canceled due to the hurricane. And we endeavored to take that input and draft a rule that made sense that to your point, as I stated, puts a replaceable machine in the place of an irreplaceable human whenever possible.
I’d like to address your statement about the DoD. We tried to schedule a meeting with your office on Wednesday. The session was busy, and so we, I regret that we didn’t get to do that, but I’d like to read from a statement from the Department of Defense on DJI Systems.
Chair Wright: Let’s not. Because I want facts, not just a letter from somebody because I have letters here from the Pentagon. So, we’re going to sit here and share letters all day long.
Secretary Allende: Well, Senator, the department statement says that was in unauthorized release and the department is disavowed. That’s, and that’s…
Chair Wright: Oh… You want the second letter that I have? I mean, how many letters are we going to share today?
Do you have proof that DJI can transmit information around, around the globe? Does your department have that? Because my Bill doesn’t say, just use the Blue sUAS. You guys chose to use the Blue sUAS.
So, what we’re going to do, ladies and gentlemen, is open this up for comments because we’re going nowhere as we did in our one and only Zoom meeting. And then you didn’t want to have any more meetings with me, even though I asked the Senator. Now you’re going to say in the meetings this week, I turned you down. You had your chances.
Secretary Allende: I disagree with that. I don’t, we’ve never turned down a meeting, Sir.
Chair Wright: Good for you. Does anyone wish to speak? We have some appearance cards, and then we’ll get back into debate.
Senator Pizzo: Anybody has any DJs on sale they want to unload for me? Yeah, I got two kids. They love them.
Chair Wright: Cassandra, I’d like to ask you, do you have information that I’ve been asking for that proves that DJI drones communicate with China?
Cassandra Farley UF: I would refer to the same materials the Secretary offered. We as a matter of policy at UF, we don’t do business with entities that are determined to be restricted entities by federal government agencies such as the Department of the Treasury, the Bureau of Industry Security. So, DJI is a restricted company, and as such, we have not purchased drones from them.
Chair Wright: So you have no personal proof or no personal, no proof that DJI has talked to China?
Cassandra Farley UF: Well, we…
Chair Wright: Yes or no?
Cassandra Farley UF: The information…
Chair Wright: Yes or no?
Cassandra Farley UF: We use the information provided by the federal.
Chair Wright: You have no proof. Thank you. Thank you very much. Go ahead, Sir.
Lieutenant Mike Crabb: So, I’m not an IT guy and usually not the smartest guy in the room, but when we were able to use our DJI drones of now we’re down to six other manufacturers our… all of the information received from the drone is completely disconnected from the internet and our secure network. There is no possibility of any exposure of our network. So, I’m once again would ask, you already know that, but I once again ask. Yeah, let us get the shelf life out of these (DJI drones)
Chair Wright: Yeah.
Lieutenant Mike Crabb: And work through ’em when we know that there’s no way for them to download the information.
Chair Wright: Yep. That’s where we’re headed. With or without you. I have nothing to lose, ladies and gentlemen. I have nothing to lose. I’m 71 years. I’m working hard for you for $29,000 a year.
Senator Pizzo: What?
Chair Wright: And this is going to be my life’s work to make sure you can continue to use these drones. I am not going to let one officer, Secretary… I’m not going to let one officer risk his life or her life because somebody thinks that these things talk to China.
I cannot imagine what China would really want to see when we pull over a DUI when we stop a speeding car, when we arrest somebody for an outstanding warrant.
I cannot, for the life of me, as a former canine officer, myself understand what China would glean from that to say, wow… That they can’t already glean from this, from Alexa, from the TVs that are listening in our houses, from the body cameras that we have.
And to take all of these (DJI) drones away from these men and women is unacceptable. Unacceptable, Sir.
Okay. Anybody else wants to speak? Okay. Chris Lyon from Tallahassee, here speaking with some information. Go ahead. Florida Mosquito control.
Chris Lyon: Yes, sir.
Chair Wright: That’s the Minnesota State Burden, in case you didn’t know. It’s right here, Sir. Right on the bottom. Bottom. Press a little button.
Chris Lyon: Good afternoon, Mr. Chair, members of the committee. My name is Chris Lyon. I represent the Florida Mosquito Control Association, and I just wanted to provide a little additional information about other ways that drones are used by governmental entities. So, my members were affected by this as well. I don’t normally read prepared statements, but my client specifically wanted this, in this form, read. So please grant me a little grace here as I do.
FMCA members, which are comprised of city, county, and independent special district programs, use drones for a variety of purposes in their mission, including locating and surveying remote mosquito breeding sites that would be too dangerous to access by foot.
Create real-time imagery of mosquito breeding sites, used to develop the GIS files necessary to guide treatment missions. They actually use them (drones) to apply insecticides for the control of both adult and larval stage mosquitoes in areas too small for a treatment by aircraft and too large or inaccessible for ground applications.
They also use drones to perform LIDAR operations. Don’t ask me what that is. I actually Googled it so, in case anybody did I know, laser imaging detection and ranging. They used them to perform LIDAR operations too. Operations to detect mosquito breeding sites beneath heavy vegetation. So think below the tree canopy that the naked eye can’t see.
They also use them for placement of mosquito traps in mosquito breeding sites, deemed hazardous to field personnel. So, they use these they find them extremely efficient, cost-effective, and provide for the safety of mosquito control personnel.
Many of their drones, they use a variety of manufacturers in their fleets. They do use DJI. They also use some American… Think more agricultural type drones, which actually can carry payloads like for the spraying of insecticides in these confined spaces. So, they were affected and many of their drones have been grounded since January 1st.
As they move, as Florida moves into its mosquito season, mosquito control operations will need to devise strategies to fill the void with the loss of drones. So, we absolutely support your Bill Chairman Wright to extend that timeline so that we can plan accordingly to replace those drones, as we said, as the shelf life of these drones phases out.So, we absolutely support that. And I would answer any questions that I have the technical ability to do.
Chair Wright: Thank you, Mr. Lyon. Any questions for the speaker?
Senator Pizzo: Yes. Sort of comment in anticipation that we have support too. Tell you guys to get those things back up in the air, especially for mosquito control. Okay. And if they need a defense attorney, I’ll do it for free.
Chris Lyon: Well, a, as their lawyer and lobbyist, I’m…, even though there are no penalties in the law, I’m hard-pressed to tell them to just keep doing it. So, I would much prefer something like the Chairman Wright’s bill, which I can then look in a straight face and say, now you can absolutely do it.
Chair Wright: Thank you, sir. Jamie Cunningham. Jamie Cunningham here. Did he? Does he want to come back? No. I mean, you want me to keep this for when he comes back or? Okay. Megan, do we have Megan here? Yes. You came from all the way from Naples.
Megan Ketchinoff: We did.
Chair Wright: Wow. That’s a long drive.
Megan Ketchinoff: Nine hour traffic yesterday.
Chair Wright: Oh my goodness.
Megan Ketchinoff: Here we are.
Chair Wright: Megan, you are recognized. Thank you. I’m…, I guess we don’t wonder where you’re from.
Megan Ketchinoff: No, I am. We’re the Collier County Sheriff’s Office. So good evening senators, and thank you for having me. I am from the Collier County Sheriff’s Office. My name is Sergeant Megan Ketchinoff.
I am currently assigned to the Realtime Operations Center, and I’m also the drone coordinator, lacking better terminology. I oversee 28 of our Part 107 certified drone pilots. I stand before you today in support of the extension of utilizing our existing fleet of drones that we were able to use prior to January 1st, 2023.
Collier’s drone fleet consists of 31 drones and a value over $500,000. We had multiple types of drones, drones that can be flown indoors to our aerial rooftop program, which was used in DJI Matrice 300. So as of right now, we are at a loss of over $500,000 with our drones, accessories and necessary upkeep.
And we are proud to say that the Collier County Sheriff’s Office was the first in the state of Florida, and the seventh in the country, for the aerial first response program.
The drones are an integral part of our response. I can fly a drone from our real-time operation center, which is 11 miles (ca. 18 km) away from where we actually launch the drone.
Prior to the January 1st our response was 92 seconds, and 10 minutes for the rest of the county using drones.
So three of the major cases that I do want to highlight on how we use our drones, one was SWAT. This was a mutual aid response that we received from a county. If they needed our SWAT team, we were more than happy to comply.
And a part of our SWAT, we send our drone unit. As the drone unit was on the scene and getting deployed and set up, our SWAT team actually took fire. An armed suspect was inside the house firing at us. We hit it, have an armored vehicle, it did spider the glass. So, about an hour. We tried hailing, to no avail.
So, we said… We didn’t know where he was. We didn’t know he had the condition of himself. So, the SWAT commander made the decision to deploy the drone inside the residence.
Once the drone was deployed, the suspect was very much alive, and he did actually shoot our drone out of the air. But that information, that on scene ability to stream back using a third-party software, gave our SWAT commander the ability to make that decision and then proceed further.
The second one that I like to bring out, this was from our rooftop program that involved a burglary suspect.
It was in progress and someone was actually trying to break into a residence where the occupant was inside. She called out, she was calling 911. He started to flee, and our drone was actually able to follow him as he proceeded to jump streets and backyards and pool cages trying to outrun and evade law enforcement as he heard lights and sirens. The aerial drone was able to update, and we actually did take him into custody.
When we took him into custody. We said, why did you keep running, and why did you finally surrender? He said he could not run the drone. So.
And then our last one that I wanted to bring up is a fleeing felon out in Immokalee. It’s a very rural area, so Naples is very complex. We have beaches to you know, high-end dollar areas to completely the Everglades to rural forest area.
So one of our fleeing felons decided to run into the woods in the middle of the night. Part of our Collier’s drone program is that we actually assigned drones to certified and civilian members.
So one of our first responding deputies had the ability to throw his drone in the air, and we kept eyes on him. About 30 minutes later, we were able to surround him, deploy canine. At the threat of the canine release, drone’s had eyes on him, and he willingly surrendered without incident.
As of now, our 31 drones have been grounded. As of January 1st. We have purchased three drones from the approved list, and they have found that they have the limited capabilities and are significantly more expensive. Some of these limited capabilities are night operations. We cannot fly at night sensory. The infrared, the camera, is just not safe for us to use.
Also, with the new approved list we are working on now, having that streaming capability and putting everything back into place, there are limitations with that for us that we are working through. So, and if the extension is approved, We will not purchase any additional drones for any of the foreign country of concerns and will continue to use the third party mitigating software.
We will have the time to use the drones in our current fleet until the American drones can catch up. And so, I will close at the encouragement to support the legislation.
Chair Wright: Questions? Any questions? No. Can I ask you, do you have any drones that are not DJI that will fly inside a building?
Megan Ketchinoff: No.
Chair Wright: Can’t find him.
Chair Wright: Thank you.
Megan Ketchinoff: You’re welcome.
Chair Wright: Yeah. Okay. Nicholas Romano. How are you, sir?
Nicholas Romano: I’m doing well. Thank you, sir.
Chair Wright: Fort Lauderdale. Another long ride.
Nicholas Romano: Yes, I’m yes. I’m here from the Broward County Sheriff’s Office. I’m a deputy there. I am our unmanned aircraft systems unit coordinator, signed to the aviation division.
I actually first kind of got involved in some of these at the last department of Management Services hearing in January.
And actually, I would like to thank everybody for the efforts involved just to, to try to get things done, to make things happen. We’re a large department down there in Broward county, obviously.
I currently have 63 airframes in a closet. All DJI. Operationally, we have nothing else.
So, at the end of this particular period, I ended up with 27 in the field through attrition because knowing that the deadlines were coming, I just continued to not add any new members to the unit.
So, it’s actually been an impact for a while now as we just got smaller and smaller until I have a very full closet.
That being said, a little bit of background. I’ve been with the Sheriff’s Office for 23 years. I am a computer forensic examiner, a mobile device examiner. I’m a member of the Miami Electronic Crimes Tax Force with the United States Secret Service. And I only say that to say that, at least I’m familiar a little bit with dork stuff if you will.
So that being said, there are things that obviously should be addressed that a lot of people will never think of. And that particular network isolation is obviously one of those things where we deal with secured networks, things like that. That is something that is of concern and I think that many people don’t think of it or realize the potential.
Actually, in the story highlighted earlier with the USB drive, that’s actually something that’s been commonly used for network intrusion and things like that physical access is always your number one point of compromise, for sure.
So, really just that simple network isolation, feel like that is a pretty good start on those things. And so, I move on to that in kind of looking at that data that I do have. Now I’ve also mentioned earlier, I think that in my 23 years, I’ve never been the smartest person in the room.
But that being said, the data we’re collecting is pictures and video. The data stored on the device is primarily going to be telemetry data. It’s going to be flights, it’s going to be altitude, how fast, how far, GPS location of where you’re doing it.
In my particular case, I actually pay companies a lot of money to hold that data for me because it’s public information, I need to be able to provide it when people ask. So, all of that telemetry data that is there that can be transmitted and sent I’m taking the time to download, upload to someone else and pay them to be able to provide it back when somebody asks.
That video and those photos that I take, we also pay a lot of money to go to somebody else for them to hold on to an all. So, really there we would be looking at records, processing fees that we could be out, I suppose.
But the compromise of that data is fairly inconsequential. Although some common-sense rules on not utilizing it. Again, remember this electronic crime says for Secret Service, I’m not going to volunteer if they’re in town for protection detail and say, let’s go take our Chinese products over there. Obviously, that would be a sensitive thing. Sure, no problem. Missing children, things like that. I honestly had a hard time being concerned about any of that being compromised.
That being said, it is a struggle. I’m lucky enough in Broward County to have an aviation unit that has manned aircraft for immediate response throughout the county. My helicopter can be anywhere in 10 minutes. So, that’s great. Now that all of my folks (drone pilots) are out of the business for the time being until we reach a resolution, I do at least have those aircraft as a backup to go to those missions.
But we just, number one, can’t meet all of the mission sets that we would with an unmanned aircraft systems.
And again, we’re busy supporting all of the cities throughout the county as well. And we oftentimes can’t meet that. Our pilots and air crews are having to choose between calls that they can go to without any supplemental assistance from those units that might otherwise be there.
So, obviously, any help to be able to get that resource back out to the public. In replacing that number of airframes, I’m concerned based on the availability of things and the uncertainty of the future of UAS and law enforcement.
I have arguments with my command saying, please don’t buy anything right now. Get me something for some capabilities. And so, I’m in the process of replacing my 63 airframes with three. And awaiting something that I feel like we can confidently move forward that will have capabilities, maybe affordability, things like that in the meantime, any relief on that would be greatly appreciated.
Chair Wright: Thank you, sir. Are any questions? No. Awfully quiet down here. You guys are quiet.
Nicholas Romano: Thank you for your time.
Chair Wright: Right. Ask you a question.
Nicholas Romano: Yes sir
Chair Wright: Do you know how many constrained counties we have in the state of Florida?
Nicholas Romano: Oh…
Chair Wright: 29. I’ll tell you the answer.
Nicholas Romano: There you go. That was a good one. .
Chair Wright: How many of those 29 have air units?
Nicholas Romano: Oh, I’m going to go with maybe six.
Chair Wright: More like zero, probably. But maybe they do. But my point is that they depend on you… You have fortunately something that you can ask to help back you up, but they don’t have anything other than drones to back them up.
Nicholas Romano: Yes, sir. That’s exactly why I leave with that. But I do understand how lucky we are down that way. Yeah, my brother happens to work for the Florida Highway Patrol, actually. And he’s been in several troops across the state, and I’ve realized the resources he tries to get on things that are out there is I’m fairly fortunate in my particular location.
Chair Wright: Another question for you. When you’re using these drones, do you ever see helicopters from news crews flying above you?
Nicholas Romano: Yes, sir.
Chair Wright: I wonder if they have anything going to China. What do you think? Or the nightly news? Possibly…
Nicholas Romano: Fairly accessible, generally…
Chair Wright: I was thinking so.
Nicholas Romano: Yes, sir.
Chair Wright: And aren’t we the transparent. Where people have the right to sunshine state all of our information.
Nicholas Romano: Yes sir. According to all the data that I’m required to download and transmit all the time. Yes.
Chair Wright: You know, we can’t even meet as senators. Three, two, more than two of us.
Nicholas Romano: Yes sir.
Chair Wright: State law.
Nicholas Romano: Yeah, it’s all available.
Chair Wright: Thank you for being here today. Thank you, making your trip, sir. Thank you.
Chair Wright: Okay, Sergeant Cruz. How are you, Sir?
Sergeant Cruz: Good sir. Thank you.
Chair Wright: How far Orlando? Not too bad. Four hours.
Sergeant Cruz: I gotta drive back tonight, though?
Chair Wright: Oh boy. I hope you’re not working overnight.
Sergeant Cruz: No. Large pot of coffee on the way back, though.
Chair Wright: There you go. Thank you.
Sergeant Cruz: Thank you for having me. Good afternoon. My name’s Sergeant David Cruz. I’m with the Orlando Police Department. I’ve been in the department for about 17 years. I’ve been in charge of overseeing, partaking in our drone unit for about five years.
We started with DJI, and DJI was a godsend to us in the technology. With DJI in five years at DJI, we saw no losses, no issues, no failures. In one and a half years, approximately between two different manufacturers, we had a total of five losses.
Luckily under warranty. So, we were able to send ’em back and they repaired them. But it was incredible to see, and luckily, I have a very supportive staff, chain of command, chief of police who believes in the (drone) technology, and they believe in us. But in one year and a half, we had five failures of the manufacturers on the (Blue sUAS) list. DJI, none.
That’s going to put us in danger, our officers in danger and the public in danger when these drones continue to fall out of the sky.
My officers are trained, are also told, they gotta complete a report because of the failure. It is an asset. It does cost money. It comes out of taxpayer’s money. And we have to report it. . Not to go too much into scenarios and stuff like that. I know that’s been covered by Collier County. Thank you for doing that.
But we have 4,432,000 calls for service in the City of Orlando. In 2022, we did a drone pilot program, which we took six drones. We trained six midnight patrol officers, and we put ’em on patrol. With that, they deployed 111 times. They alone have six apprehensions, just the drone pilots.
Again, we were also requested by FDLE because they knew we had the drones to take overall photography. Also involved shootings, which they deem very necessary, with that technology.
So with that being said, now we also have an active crime center staffed about 15 hours a day, and the crime center also is able to live stream our drone feed and also assist the pilot by looking, observing and been having orientation of the scene of what’s occurring as well.
So with that said, we have branched out as the Orlando Police Department. We have gone above and beyond by trying these other (blue sUAS) manufacturers, giving them, having a little bit of faith. Thinking that maybe we’ll be able to persevere, but it has been very difficult. Very difficult.
As a second note, as far as manufacturer, I’d like to also comment on state statute 934.50, if I may. As far as rules. It says in statute, and I’m sure you guys know it very well, but just for the audience’s sake, I’d like to go over section three prohibited uses of drones under C.
It says, “if a law enforcement agency possesses reasonable suspicion that under particular circumstances swift action is needed to prevent imminent danger to life or serious damage to property, to force all the imminent escape of the suspect or the destruction evidence, or to achieve purposes, including, but not limited to facilitating the search of a missing person.”
I have a legal, I have to go through my legal for these things, and my legal feels that reasonable suspicion is not our sole belief that it may happen. Like having a crystal ball. They want a little bit more going into it. As far as to forestall the imminent escape of the suspect.
I had a narcotics’ officer call me up. He said, we’re buying a large amount of Fentanyl. As we know, effects all of us now is a problem. They want to meet in the isolated location in a public storage area, which we all know is very hard to get into. One way in, one way out. You can’t really see from any angles. He’s like, I gotta put assets in there. I can’t cover them with manned assets. It’s impossible. I need the drone. I go to legal, I say, Hey, this is the officer safety situation. It’s very grave. You know, this is the only way this dealer will meet. This is a big fish. They want to get ’em off the streets. Negative. You cannot because the state statute is too restrictive.
I call the agent back, I tell ’em the bad news. I said, look, if it was up to me 110, I’ll be there for you. But I cannot because the state statute reads otherwise, and our legal will not support it.
And again, the problem is, what are the effects? We don’t know, but I don’t think anyone’s willing to see what it is.
Senator Pizzo: Sorry, I can’t help myself. You were setting up a buy. Under-covers are setting up a buy?
Sergeant Cruz: Correct.
Senator Pizzo: And so, you anticipating that there would be narcotics at this meeting?
Sergeant Cruz: Yes, sir.
Senator Pizzo: Yeah. Have your legal department call me.
Chair Wright: Yeah.
Sergeant Cruz: And we’ve gone tit-for-tat with them, unfortunately. But you know, again, as, as far as they interpret the law, as far as it reads, is we need that reasonable suspicion that they’re going to flee. In order to forestall it.
So, we see very restrictive. And I know the guys behind me are on the same page, and we’ve been through it back and forth. Some other places do things differently. But unfortunately, we like to keep our accreditation and our standards at the Orlando Police Department.
Chair Wright: Exactly. So, so do your officers, I know the undercover wouldn’t, but do your officers normally wear body cameras?
Sergeant Cruz: We do wear body cameras, yes.
Chair Wright: Yeah. And mostly, you have iPhones?
Sergeant Cruz: Yes sir.
Chair Wright: Thank you. Where they’re made. Thank you.
Chair Wright: Okay. Robert Allen. No “de” on the end. Okay.
Colonel Robert Allen: Thank you for having us. My name is Colonel Robert Allen with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office. So, we traveled up today. I was, actually not, going to speak today, but I felt compelled after some of the other testimony here today.
I want to thank all the people that came and brought these great examples. And we could dazzle you all day long. I could show you videos of guns recovered. I could show you videos of a traffic stop of what the felon, where he was holding a handgun in the front seat of his vehicle while our deputy was approaching him. A drone could see that. Was able to warrant a deputy to back off. There were guns there. They apprehended felons.
I come from after 44 years in law enforcement, I come from the world that, I didn’t warm up to drones immediately. They took away the fun of law enforcement, which was chasing bad guys. And there was nothing more exhilarating than going in the woods after a bad guy. But until we had some misfortunes happen in Florida around the state, I became to warm up to the use of drones. Greatly.
We’ve heard a lot about officer safety. It’s a… You can’t measure what these drones are brought to officer safety.
But what I wanna stress here today in Palm Beach County, at least we fly. We’ve been flying over a hundred missions a month. We’ve shut, we’ve been shut down since January. We’ve flown five missions since January.
What we use our drones, except for apprehending people, we have an extreme number of Alzheimer’s patients, autistic children, and elderly missing people.
As we all know, with autistic children who are drawn to water, which we have a lot of in Palm Beach County. Minutes matter. We cannot get our helicopters fired up, warmed up, and pilots in the air in time. Our drones are there. We’ve recovered numerous children wandering around the yards, near lakefronts, near canals. So just that alone.
We are paid to take risk. We don’t mind taking them. I don’t think my brother’s here. And then my brothers and sisters in the audience don’t mind taking ’em. That’s why we’re paid. That’s why we get high-risk pensions. But the children do not. The Alzheimer patients do not. So for that alone, you know, I thank you for everything you’re doing.
I would like to bring up one example. We are trying to warm up into the approved list of drones. We purchased one, one of the Ascent drones. Very expensive. We had to fly two of our pilots to Boston to even learn how to fly it. The DJIs are very easy to use.
Within a week or two of having it, one of our pilots was driving home. He heard snap, crackle, pop, behind his seat. One of the batteries outside of the drone, not plugged in, on the floorboard of his vehicle, caught on fire. Thermal combustion, and caught on fire. He had to pull over the side of the road, pull the battery and the rear carpet out while it was on fire. Our drone operators do not want to park these drones in their cars, in their garages, in their homes. So, for that one, we’ve never had one issue with the DJI since our inception. We’ve been around. We’ve been doing this for a long time.
So thank you very much. I’ll take any questions if everybody has any.
Chair Wright: Any questions for the jump or, Robert? No. Thank you, sir. Thank you very much.
Chair Wright: again. Oh, you think he showed up? Did Jamie show up? Young lady in support. Okay. He’s in support.
Chair Wright: Okay. Any other conversations? No,
Senator Torres: I think there’s a lot of conversation here.
Chair Wright: Yeah. Should we get into debate?
Senator Torres: We should.
Chair Wright: No other questions? We’re in debate. Okay. Yes, Senator Torres.
Senator Torres: Well, I’m honored that all you officers and participants are here as. A former law enforcement officer from the old school, that we chase suspects, record ourselves, you know. Time has changed, technology has changed. I have a son who’s an NYPD, a sergeant up in New York. He’s in the FIU, but he told me that the technology that they use to catch criminals, to catch bad guys has changed. Drastically changed.
They use the system that we have. Facebook. What’s that other TikTok, Instagram. I mean, you. People don’t know how law enforcement has evolved and changed, because criminal act or criminal activity continues out there.
The only thing I, you know, like the highway… the sergeant from the highway patrol, I wonder how. Do you set up drones when the highway makes a traffic stop out there when they’re by themselves?
Sergeant Cruz: No. That’s not common practice for us. , but we will use it for traffic management and other things.
Senator Torres: You know, I’m always fearful. I was in transit police, and we were by ourselves in the subways in New York. We didn’t have two-man patrol until it changed. But my point is that now you have a technology not that drones are going to be flying in the subways in New York.
But what I’m getting at is that traffic stops are very dangerous for officers, no matter what branch you’re in, you know, out there in the streets. I see the cost factor (of Blue sUAS) that they’re talking about. Because I had a presentation in my office about the cost factor, and they showed the difference between the American and DJI. And man. I mean, you’re talking about a big difference in costs. And to a department that’s trying to get themselves how many they need. How many drones they need and get back on their feet and get ’em out there.
You know, you need to understand that lives are counting on this issue, and we need to overlook that, and we need to understand, no more about the money, folks. No more about the money. Lives are at stake. You need to help. You need to have, you need to have these drones up and flying and doing what they need to do.
And if you’re getting the service, and you have no problem with the product, then I say continue using them, and I’m in favor of what the Chair is presenting up here today. So thank you again for the opportunity.
Chair Wright: Thank you, Senator Torres. Any other debate? Yes, go ahead.
Senator Pizzo: Thank you. This is the second time this week, I’ve used this line. There’s an old Henny Youngman line that says a doctor gives a patient six months to live, and he can’t afford to pay his bill. So he gives him another six months to live.
That’s kind of where we are. Here’s… I do the Venn diagram in my head of all those locations now restricted from law enforcement. Not to be able to use those devices. But both of my sons have DJI drones, and they can fly them anywhere else, with the exception of the accepted areas. Right?
So, in particularly sensitive situations where there’s United States Secret Service or the governor’s detail. Don’t use it.
But if you’re flying mosquito chemicals. If you’re got a traffic accident. If you’re an apprehension and chase, let the Chinese see it all day long. I’m just trying to figure that which is sensitive not to see. Right?
I realize that when you walk in downtown London, you pick your nose, put your hand through your hair, you get on the phone, they can read what you’re texting on your phone.
Okay, so I just want you, just prioritize that, which is most intimate, most private, and most secure. That has to do with proprietary technology, state secrets, and what I look like when I’m you know, asleep in the morning and waking up. Right?
Those intimacy issues also have their own sort of crossover with other devices and other things. What we’re talking about is, sometimes, and this is true in a wired and integrated society, what are we willing to sort of give up to some extent in order to guarantee our safety, public safety and law enforcement safety?
And I think that has to get a little bit bigger, especially as the environment gets built out more. Everything I’ve heard from FHP, from Lieutenant Crabb, Captain, to UF. None of which we should really be concerned about, because it’s like a helicopter pilot’s dream of the kind of, kind of transmission that they’re able to do. The only thing that’s of concern is when Sergeant Dooley says, that in real time he’s transmitting, you know, to a third party or to an offsite sort of location.
Again, it’s what are we transmitting? What are we capturing? What are we recording? What are we flying over? That is sensitive to national security, state security for your feelings, and where that line needs to be drawn.
And again, the greatest limitation of your Bill, Senator Wright, was the fact that we could not go beyond the Fourth Amendment, any kind of Fourth Amendment protections, search and seizure, and how far you can take it.
And so, for Fort Lauderdale, if the 63 units are really for, you know, seeing either boats, people, crowd control, all those issues, that’s not giving away something that a Chinese tourist couldn’t see, to be real and to be honest.
And so, you. I guess we ween out. I guess we sort of thin out, but it’s rather quixotic that every single officer here can have a DJI drone at home, but not on the job. And that seems and smells really political to me.
So, here’s my advice, especially to those law enforcement officers in my district. It’s the same thing I used to tell police officers. Especially… where’s Orlando? Let me tell you what I told every police officer when I was a prosecutor. Save the baby, get the guns and get the drugs. I don’t care that I have to dismiss the case because guess what? They don’t get their drugs back. They don’t get those guns back, and the kid survives. So, I’m okay with not processing a case. If you stay safe, you get the drugs and the guns off the street.
So, here’s the thing, don’t compromise your safety. Do what you gotta do. And we have your back. Like, really have your back. Not on Twitter, have your back, but actually have your back.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Chair Wright: Thank you very much. Senator Pizzo. Anyone else? So, ladies and gentlemen, we do have a Bill that will be presenting on the floor that allows us to have this extension that we so desperately need to keep you safe.
I’m sad to hear that you have your (DJI) drones in closets, and I hope to hell we don’t have anybody lose a life over this silly rule.
And I am, I have pledged to you today, and I’ve pledged to the Secretary that we are going to get these DJIs back up and flying, and they’ll be the last thing I do.
If I do, I’m taking on PBMs, and they’re the third-largest lobbyists. No, the largest lobbyist in the state in the United States. So taking on this little one is a piece of cake, and we’re going to go after it.
I’m disappointed that we didn’t have the workshops that were promised, and I’m going to make sure that everyone in management here knows more about that. I’ve already shared it with them. And I’m really sorry that you’ve taken this position, Secretary, because I had great hopes for you. So, the days will come. Yep. The days will come, Sir.
Does anyone else want to speak or have any comments before we wrap up here. Yes, Sir. Please.
Captain Stacy McIntyre Just one thing that I just want to bring to your attention, there’s, even though the federal Blue s UAS list exists. Bureau of Firearms and Explosives, Bureau of Insurance Fraud, we work with a lot of our federal agency partners, and they’re still issuing DJI drones to their new pilots. Even though they’re in violation of their own rules.
Chair Wright: Yeah. There, there’s a lot of controversy about that particular list (Blue sUAS) and how valid it is. And the original list had two companies listed that weren’t even in business anymore. So, it’s pretty speculative who created that list and why it is even followed. But it, but right now, it is followed, so.
Okay. We have some people here that maybe missed earlier that need to record some votes. Senator Collins?
Chair Wright: Any anyone else? Nope. Ladies and gentlemen, I can’t thank you enough for making this trip again after you did for me on January 9th. And we were disappointed that the Secretary wasn’t there. He was here today and I can tell from his responses to me. We’re going to have some fun over the next couple of days, and I love a good fight. So, I will be fighting for all of you and to keep the men and women of law enforcement in the state of Florida safe.
So thank you all for being here. And if there’s no objection, we’re going to ask Pizzo to ask this to adjourn. And he did. Thank you. We’re adjourned.
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