By Peter Finn
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 23, 2011; 12:56 AM
AUSTIN - The suspect's house, just west of this city, sat on a hilltop at the end of a steep, exposed driveway. Agents with the Texas Department of Public Safety believed the man inside had a large stash of drugs and a cache of weapons, including high-caliber rifles.
As dawn broke, a SWAT team waiting to execute a search warrant wanted a last-minute aerial sweep of the property, in part to check for unseen dangers. But there was a problem: The department's aircraft section feared that if it put up a helicopter, the suspect might try to shoot it down.
So the Texas agents did what no state or local law enforcement agency had done before in a high-risk operation: They launched a drone. A bird-size device called a Wasp floated hundreds of feet into the sky and instantly beamed live video to agents on the ground. The SWAT team stormed the house and arrested the suspect..........
The Houston Police Department considered participating in a pilot program to study the use of drones, including for evacuations, search and rescue, and tactical operations. In the end, it withdrew.
A spokesman for Houston police said the department would not comment on why the program, to have been run in cooperation with the FAA, was aborted in 2007, but traffic tickets might have had something to do with it.
When KPRC-TV in Houston, which is owned by The Washington Post Co., discovered a secret drone air show for dozens of officers at a remote location 70 miles from Houston, police officials were forced to call a hasty news conference to explain their interest in the technology.
A senior officer in Houston then mentioned to reporters that drones might ultimately be used for recording traffic violations.
Federal officials said support for the program crashed.