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Report: 93 law enforcement agencies used drones in 2020

ST. PAUL — A new report shows a growing number of law enforcement agencies are using drones to help with search and rescue efforts, investigations and for public safety in Minnesota.

The legislative report says 93 agencies statewide either maintained or used a drone in 2020 with 1,171 flights recorded.

The report is the result of new regulations lawmakers passed last year. The bipartisan law prevents an agency from deploying a drone with facial recognition technology unless authorized by a warrant.

There are a number of circumstances that grant an exception to the warrant, including an emergency situation that involves the risk of death or bodily harm to a person, KSTP-TV reported.

Each time a law enforcement agency uses a drone for one of those purposes, it must be documented and submitted to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which compiles the annual report for the legislature.

The law also prohibits law enforcement agencies from equipping drones with weapons and limits how long drone video can be retained.

The aerial equipment gives Cottage Grove police an advantage from above when every moment matters, said Sgt. Michael McCormick.

“The whole initial idea of it was to save lives,” McCormick said. “We’ve got parks and water everywhere so really the idea was to have an extra set of eyes above to assist with officers.”

The new report shows Cottage Grove police used a drone 53 times in 2020.

“I always had a feeling there was a need for it but I didn’t realize to that extent,” McCormick said.