Because of Federal Aviation Administration restrictions, very few law enforcement agencies currently have access to unmanned aerial systems – which employ the guided flying vehicles most commonly referred to as “drones” by the public and media. However, the FAA is developing guidelines to allow commercial drones into U.S. airspace by September 2015, and the law enforcement interest in the technology is growing.
The UAS could provide a relatively inexpensive tool to help police in a number of activities, including search and rescue missions, missing person searches, hostage/barricade response, crisis management, active shooter response, criminal investigations and others, according to the COPS Newsletter article.
But most members of the public identify “drones” with military operations that involve stealthy surveillance and armed attacks on terrorists. Without a concerted public education campaign, law enforcement efforts to acquire unmanned aerial systems could create friction with the community and reduce trust, the Newsletter article warns.
The article raises a number of questions that must be addressed by agencies considering this technology:
- How can UAS deployment affect community trust in the police, and what can the police do to uphold that trust?
- How can police use UAS for life-saving missions while maintaining their commitment to procedural justice, transparency, and accountability?
- How can police agencies balance the benefit of using UAS for surveillance in a targeted public safety mission with real or perceived threats to privacy within the community?
- What technological and operational considerations should police consider before deployment?
- What are the primary community apprehensions that police are likely to encounter when planning for and deploying UAS, and how can they best address them?
The Police Foundation’s guidebook project will help law enforcement agencies understand potential costs and benefits of using UAS, legal challenges and liability issues, impact on privacy, and the collection and use of UAS-acquired data. It is also intended to provide guidelines for deploying UAS in policing scenarios in accordance with the 4th Amendment, civil liberties, and the community policing philosophy.
The Foundation has brought together six focus groups of law enforcement and community representatives, as well as a national advisory board of policy experts to provide insight and guidance in the development of the guidebook.
The guidebook is scheduled for completion later this year.