Blogs like Gizmodo erupted this weekend when a YouTube video surfaced showing a hovering, flashing drone flying above the crowds at last month's Memorial Day weekend in South Beach. The video was all the more eyebrow-raising because the Miami-Dade Police Department actually has a drone and is one of only a few of forces in the nation with FAA clearance to fly a UAV.
Only one problem with all those stories, though: That wasn't MDPD's drone flying over South Beach.
The video that made the rounds was shot by a YouTube user named MiamiEarl, whose primary mission on Memorial Day weekend was clearly to film ladies booty-dancing in bikinis on Ocean Drive. At several points in his video, though, he captures a hovering robot checking out the crowd.
Fast-forward to 59 seconds in, 3:30 or 4:13, to catch the device in action:
"The rollout of domestic spy drones to watch the American people is accelerating," Infowars warns. "Footage taken during a recent Memorial Day event in Miami illustrat[es] how authorities are using surveillance drones to keep tabs on partygoers."
Eh, not so fast. No one reporting on the video bothered to check with MDPD about the footage. Det. Aida Fina-Milian, a spokeswoman, was unequivocal about it.
"It's definitely not ours," she says. "We can't fly over a crowd of people like that. We'd lose our certification."
And in case you don't believe Fina-Milian, it's pretty easy to see that whatever was buzzing around over Ocean Drive isn't MDPD's drone. Their UAV is a Honeywell device called the T-Hawk, which looks like this:
Compare that to the red-and-white flashing device flying around the scene and it's clear that MDPD wasn't operating that thing.
So who was flying it? MDPD is the only force in Florida that owns a drone, but just to be on the safe side, we talked to a Miami Beach police spokesman, Sgt. Bobby Hernandez, since his force coordinated security on Memorial Day weekend.
"There was no police drone being used out there," he says. "It didn't come from us or any of our mutual aid partners."
Clearly something was buzzing over Ocean Drive. The most likely explanation, it seems, is that the drone was civilian-built -- someone was probably taking it for a spin above the party for fun.
In fact, compared with video of the MDPD's drone (which you can watch here), whatever was flying around South Beach looks pretty amateurish -- why would it need all those flashing lights except to sort of look cool?
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In the meantime, MDPD is still training to use its T-Hawk drone and waiting for the right situation -- namely, a gunman holed up in a building somewhere.
"We haven't had an opportunity to use it yet," Fina-Milian says.