By Heather Alexander
Divers are scouring the bottom of Lake Conroe in the hope of recovering a controversial $250,000 police drone that crashed into the water Friday.
The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office confirms the remote-controlled helicopter drone, which was bought in 2011 with a federal grant, suffered a malfunction and went down during an exercise over the lake.
The drone is equipped with a camera and an infrared scanning device and is used by MCSO for emergency management, missing person recovery and operation overwatch, for example filming above SWAT team activities, according to spokesman Brady Fitzgerald.
“Divers did go down to look for it. They are still looking. It went down in deep water where there is a rocky bottom. Visibility is also a problem because of sediment at the bottom of the lake,” Fitzgerald said.
The mini helicopter which weighs around 49 pounds and, in a military setting, could be fitted with a single- or multiple-shot 40mm grenade launcher, 25mm Grenade Launcher or 12 gauge shotgun, according to Vanguard Defense Industries.
At the time, Kirsten Bokenkamp, spokeswoman for the Houston-based American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said the drones raise concerns because there are not enough safeguards in place to protect citizens from unreasonable search and seizure.
“It’s just another example of technology that is outstripping our lives,” she said. “What we mean by that, is the technology moves so quickly and the interpretations of the Fourth Amendment are failing to keep up with the technology. That brings privacy concerns.”
MCSO officials emphasize that the drone is not used for surveillance.
Drones or unmanned aircraft are governed by the Federal Aviation Administration, which first authorized their use in the national airspace in 1990.
Fitzgerald said deputies were confident the drone would be recovered and further investigation into the crash would follow.