Police departments face similar issues as many other industries in terms of operational efficiency. That’s why many departments across the US are exploring drones use to assist with their work. Drone integration could help law enforcement agencies with everything from search-and-rescue missions to crime scene documentation, traffic accident investigations, disaster relief efforts and more. Drones can be an invaluable tool for public safety. But there are many considerations to integrating drones into the operations of police departments, including garnering community trust.
Know the Regulations
While police departments are tasked with enforcing the law, it’s also important that local departments know the various regulations that govern drone use. The FAA enforces federal regulations around when and where drones can be flown. While departments can apply for waivers, there are limits to flying over people, at night, and other considerations. States also have enacted laws related to drones. For example, Illinois SB 1587, the Freedom from Drone Surveillance Act, authorizes the use of drones for law enforcement, but with limitations and rules, including requiring a warrant.
Explaining laws, regulations and and protections as you implement your program will also build trust with community, knowing that you understand limits of use as well as benefits.
Get Licensed to Fly
As more and more agencies decide to deploy drones, they need to ensure their officers are properly trained and utilizing UAVs in a way that keeps public safety and privacy at the forefront of their deployment practices. Determining what equipment you will need and identifying who within the department will be trained as a drone pilot are critical steps.
Anyone operating a drone for commercial use is required to get a commercial drone pilot license. This means preparing to take and pass the FAA Part 107 Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) exam. Most smaller departments will get exactly what they need by having individual members of the department get certified under Part 107. However, larger departments can request a COA (Certificate of Waiver or Authorization) allowing your agency to self-certify your drone pilots and drones for flights to perform government functions. (If you are in the greater Chicagoland or Northwest Indiana area, contact us for onsite drone pilot training.)
The good news is that the Part 107 certification, required by the FAA, covers all the current regulations. Drones are still a new and evolving industry, and regulations also continue to progress to support the benefits while minimizing potential risks.
Communicate Your Policy
The National Police Foundation’s Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems in Public Safety recommends that police departments create and publicly share an operational plan for UAS use before implementing it to support your success. Beyond what equipment and who will operate it, operational plans should include specific uses and protocols, including being clear on how drones will not be used. A clear policy on what data might be collected and how it will be used (for example for investigations, accident, or crime scene reconstruction, mitigating danger in the event of an active shooter scenario, etc.) will also be critical to building community trust and support.
Drones in Public Safety is Growing
The idea of use of drones by police departments is not new. In fact, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) introduced its guidelines for police use of drones in 2012. By 2019, there were 347 agencies in 43 states across the United States who were using drones for tactical work. And that number continues to grow.
We invite you to reach out to Mark Thompson, COO at RBS Drone Technologies, Inc. Sgt. Thompson has 26 years of experience in law enforcement with the Chicago Police Department, as a Sergeant working in Information Technology, and can help you think through how you might integrate drone technology into your operations. From reducing cost and danger to officers to enhancing public safety, a responsible drone program has many benefits for both law enforcement and citizens alike.