RUSSELL COUNTY, Va. - They're high-tech eyes in the skies that could be watching you -- we're talking about unmanned surveillance aircraft, also known as drones.
Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell is adding exemptions to a bill that would ban their use for two years.
The exemptions would let law officers and rescuers use drones in certain situations, like search and rescue and when danger is imminent. It also clarifies that the legislation does not apply to institutions of higher education engaged in research.
When it comes to drones, some people are concerned about their privacy and being spied on. On the flip side, law officers tell us drones can better protect officers and citizens. We discovered why they're a relatively cheap crime-fighting tool.
Weighing in at around one pound, a small, black flying device may not be what you imagine when you hear the word "drone". "I think I would describe it more as a child's toy with a camera on it," said Russell County Sheriff Steve Dye.
As an unmanned aerial device, it is a drone, and we found out it's one of the newest technologies used by the Russell County Sheriff's Department.
Equipped with two cameras and an iPhone app that controls its movement, this device can be an extra pair of eyes that can get a 360 degree view 100 feet in the air. "We thought, you know, this is something we could really use," said Dye.
Sheriff Steve Dye told us this technology can help find missing persons without contaminating a scent needed for dogs, and it could even save a life when looking for a dangerous suspect. "I would much rather fly this around the corner of the building to see if there's someone hiding behind [something], as opposed to having one of my officers have to stick his head around and see if there's someone back there," Dye explained.
But Dye added this drone is by no means a spy mechanism. "The same rules that apply to search and seizure apply to this. I cannot look anywhere with this device that I could not actually send a person to look with the naked eye," said Dye.
But when it comes to this new-found technology, inevitably there's a hint of concern with the public and what lies ahead. "You wouldn't want to go too far with them. If they're used for lawful purposes, they can be good, but it could get out of control like a lot of things do," said local resident Andrew Mullins.
More facts on this Russell County drone: The system can also record the video shown on the screen to an officer's iPhone, thus helping law enforcement with ongoing investigations.
The total cost for their device is about $300.
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