This story comes to us from Mountain View, California, where the police and fire department are looking at the possibility of employing drones in their work. The uses are obvious, at least to the professionals. They cite aerial imagery as being a critical tool in locating missing persons, tracking the escape paths of criminals and spotting wildfires. That still hasn’t stopped some of the residents from criticizing the effort, however. (CBS San Francisco)

Mountain View residents will soon get to weigh in on whether they think the city’s fire, police and public works departments should use drones for city business…

At the April city council meeting when the drones were first presented, a couple of residents and city council members expressed their concerns over privacy issues, such as how far the drones would be used and how the video would be collected and stored.

Police said they’re aware of the concerns and insisted they would adopt rules that the American Civil Liberties Union has suggested, including prohibiting the use of the drones for random surveillance.

The first responders are already allowing themselves to be backed into a corner before the program even gets off the ground. If they’re going to voluntarily adopt rules set out by the ACLU, much of the functionality of the technology is immediately lost. Those rules would forbid the use of drones for “random surveillance.” In other words, they could never be used proactively in detecting and hopefully preventing crime, but only reactively. No video information or still images would be stored and thus the system could never be tied into a facial recognition program.

That doesn’t render the drones entirely useless. I suppose they can still spot fires and look for missing children who might still be outdoors. But as far as cutting into rising crime rates, forget it. You might as well just use police on horseback.

What is it about California that makes them want so badly to handcuff the police and prevent them from doing the best job possible? Perhaps they would prefer the cops only search for suspects in swimming pools while wearing blindfolds and playing a game of Marco Polo. Next, they’ll want police officers on foot patrol to not wear shoes so suspects can have a “fair chance” of running away?

Law enforcement is difficult enough as it is, and particularly in California, it’s getting tougher all the time. Between gang violence and a lack of support from municipal governments, the cops can really be up against it. If the police are viewed as being weak or lacking the full backing of City Hall, criminals become emboldened. And what you wind up with under those conditions is more crime and more dead cops. Sadly, there is still no way to legislate and enforce sanity among the voters.