PHOENIX - From his corner office in a downtown Phoenix high rise, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio can see quite a bit, but he wants tools to allow him to view even more.
Arpaio confirms to ABC15 he has a plan to use drones, if he can get them.
"I want two of these drones, unmanned and of course unarmed," said Arpaio.
Using a drone would require approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, which can be a lengthy process.
Arpaio said he was hoping to have the drones and approval months ago.
"I hope to get this done pretty quickly, I don't like procrastination, especially bureaucracy," said Arpaio. "These are good, useful tools."
While Arpaio didn't specify exactly the types of drones he wants, at a Tuesday press conference, he said the models they're eyeing are between $5,000 and $20,000, and he'd like them outfitted with cameras and infrared capabilities.
He described at least one of them as potentially having a three-foot wingspan.
The first drone, if obtained, would circle or hover in the areas above Arpaio's jails, he explained.
"We do have some small problems with people throwing drugs over the fence and that is my initial plan," said Arpaio.
He went on to tell ABC15 the drones would also be used for search-and-rescue operations, along with snapping photos for investigators at crime scenes.
"Surveillance regarding crime scenes and drugs, catching dope peddlers," Arpaio described. While referencing crime scenes, he said, "sometimes it's difficult to get to these areas but if you have this great equipment to take pictures it would help."
Arpaio, well-known for his stance on immigration, said if he gets the drones, they would not be used to find and arrest undocumented immigrants in the desert.
"No, we may use them go find dope peddlers coming into the United States, we make many drug seizures, we're only 70 miles from the border," said Arpaio. "But we are not going out to look at people coming into our country thinking they may be here illegally."
When asked about people's privacy, Arpaio responded without hesitation.
"Privacy in the jails? Privacy for criminals, privacy for those with drugs? They better watch out."
As for the cost of the drones, it's unclear at this point which models MCSO would purchase, but Arpaio says most of the money would come from donations from his posses, potential government discounts and mainly through drug seizure dollars.
"Isn't it great? It would be the criminals buying these to arrest more criminals," said Arpaio.
While it's still early in the process, if approved, it appears MCSO would become the 22nd local law enforcement agency in the United States and the first in Arizona to use unmanned drones.
FAA approval for the certificate to fly the drones could take months.
When asked how he would feel if drones were flying over his home or neighborhood, Arpaio responded, "they probably already are and probably know where the toilet is in my house."
ABC15 checked with several other Arizona law enforcement agencies including DPS, Phoenix Police, Scottsdale Police, Mesa Police and Tempe Police to find out if they had any interest in obtaining drones, all responded to the question and said they had no plans to utilize drones at this time.
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