Miami Beach police use camera blimp to get around drone surveillance ban
The Miami Beach Police Department found a loophole to circumvent Florida's 2015 ban on police drone surveillance — a tethered, relatively immobile blimp with a camera attached to the underside. Officially called a 'tethered aerostat,' the helium-filled vehicle was used to monitor the approximately 15,000 people who attended the Capital One Beach Bash over the New Year's holiday.
In 2015, Florida passed the Freedom From Unwanted Surveillance Act, which banned the use of drones for police surveillance. In a letter to the city commission on January 3, City Manager Jimmy Morales explained the police department's use of the camera blimp, citing necessity due in part to 'the legal restrictions on police departments under Florida law and because of limited battery life and flight time' associated with drones.
Morales went on to call the blimp 'a new technological solution for aerial monitoring,' one the police department felt was necessary due to "the emergence of new threats of terrorism seen around the world in such large gatherings..."
A Miami Beach Police Department spokesperson told the Miami New Times the department doesn't believe its tethered aerostat violates state law. Use of a lighter-than-air vehicle for aerial surveillance has proven controversial, however, with critics saying there is little difference between a stationary floating camera and a remote-controlled flying camera.
The region's law enforcement has repeatedly demonstrated interest in camera-based surveillance, including the Miami-Dade Police Department's attempt in 2017 to deploy a wide-area surveillance system involving Cessna planes equipped with cameras. That plan, which was abandoned following heavy criticism, would have monitored the entire county using technology developed by the U.S. Air Force for use in combat zones.