Historically, police air units have been the domain of large law enforcement organizations with massive budgets that enable support of such an expensive mission. Now, for the first time in history, small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) allow police departments of all sizes to utilize the many benefits traditionally derived by those departments having their own aviation units. From event monitoring, to tactical situation, to crime scene analysis, sUAS' provide a cost effective tool for assisting law enforcement across their wide array of mission areas.
It is understandable that law enforcement agencies across the U.S. are now looking toward drones and other UAV's to assist with local police work. However, the path toward implementation is often much more difficult that it appears. A myriad of challenges represent a potential minefield. Here are 10 key challenges local law enforcement leaders need to consider as they start to embrace sUAS' for police work:
1) COMPLEX LAWS AND FAA REGULATIONS FAA Section 333 and FAA Part 107 have made great strides in clarifying the rules and regulations for operating sUAS in the Federal airspace. However, there remains significant ambiguity, and the regulations continue to be somewhat of a moving target. For example, FAA Part 107 prohibits the use of drones between sunset and sunrise, and over large crowds, without a special exemption which must be granted by the FAA. This could pose problematic for smaller police organizations that lack the understanding and resources to procure these waivers. In addition, the lack of consistent (if any) local ordinances further serve to muddle the landscape.
2) NEGATIVE PUBLIC PERCEPTION TOWARD DRONES AND SURVEILLANCE
"Big Brother is watching!" Most of us have heard the expression in one form or another, and nowhere does it seem to enter the lexicon more than in the discussion of law enforcement using drones. Surveillance is a touchy subject. So touchy the fact that City of Baltimore (MD) Police sparked a national controversy when word leaked out that they were using Cessna aircraft mounted with high tech camera systems to monitor the populations in the days surrounding the reading of the verdicts from "the Freddie Gray trial." The thought of drones watching over them tends to invoke thoughts of flying Terminators circling around in the sky. Unless of course they are protecting children at a playground or tracking down escaped convicts, then drones seem to be a good thing!
3) RAPIDLY EXPANDING sUAS TECHNOLOGY
In the 1970's, Gordon Moore, the co-founder of Intel and Fairchild Semiconductor made the observation that due to technical innovation, the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years. More than 40 years later, the basic premise of "Moore's Law" still appears to hold true. Placed into modern context, the fact is that most UAV technology will be largely outdated within only a few years as newer, better technology is developed and brought to market. For those big budget law enforcement agencies, this will not be a problem. Yet for smaller, local police with smaller budgets, this could pose more problems as they struggle to keep pace with the latest in police technology.
4) LACK OF TIME FOR PROPER TRAINING AND OPERATIONAL PROFICIENCY "Gentlemen, we are going to relentlessly chase perfection, knowing full well we will not catch it, because nothing is perfect. But we are going to relentlessly chase it, because in the process we will catch excellence. I am not remotely interested in just being good." -VINCE LOMBARDI, first team meeting as Packers coach, Game of My Life: 25 Stories of Packers Football We tend to play like we practice is the old football adage. This mantra especially holds true in the military and law enforcement. Unless a police force is regularly training and drilling with their UAV unit, they will not develop operational proficiency, period. This has the potential to create dangerous situations for everyone involved. If a police force is going to embark upon a UAV program they are going to need to embrace it wholeheartedly and incorporate it into all feasible facets of their tactical operations -- much like the modern day K-9 unit. 5) FEAR OF CHANGE
New technology can be tough to embrace, especially for personnel who have devoted their career to refining a specific set of proven operational tactics and protocols. Many police forces have leaders in key positions who may not necessarily be overly receptive to drone technology changing the way their unit operates. Dialogue needs to be established to work through these challenges and ensure that a path forward to tactical implementation is planned and followed.
6) SURGING UAV RESOURCES AS MISSIONS PROFILES CHANGE
A one-man drone unit may be typically sufficient for a small police department with limited needs, but what happens when that department is forced to search vast areas for a missing child or stolen vehicle? What happens when persistent surveillance is required over a target of interest? The ability to augment aviation support with additional UAV's is a challenge that needs to be planned for as the general public expects increased police efficiency via the use of sUAS'.
7) MITIGATING DANGER FROM UAV LIVE BROADCASTS (STREAMING)
Today's consumer drones allow for instant video sharing over web-based entities such as YouTube and Facebook Live. Yes, that's a pretty neat thing -- until you have a escaped felon barricaded in a home with a family of four. The last thing you want is "Joe the Drone Hobbyist" live streaming tactical maneuvers by your SWAT team on to CNN. Knowing the strategies and tactics for legally preventing these types of broadcasts will be essential when time is of the essence and lives are on the line.
8) MANAGING CROSS-JURISDICTIONAL OPERATIONS
What happens when a search or investigation leads law enforcement toward a jurisdiction which they do not have legal authority to operate in? How does the National Airspace System come into play? What are the pitfalls? Understanding where the boundaries are -- both figuratively and literally -- is essential to ensuring evidence is collected and preserved according to the law. 9) PERSONNEL ADVANCEMENT AND TURNOVER
The young patrolman who served as your drone operator just took a new job with the Sheriff's Office -- or maybe he has been promoted to another job that prevents him from working the department drone. What is your plan? Are you going to start from scratch training a new rookie? Is he/she FAA Part 107 certified as an operator? How will this affect the operational proficiency of your department? Having a plan to quickly resolve these issues is essential.
10) FULFILLING FOIA REQUESTS That young journalism professor over at the university just did it to you again. She had each member of her news writing class -- all 23 of them -- send your agency a Freedom of Information Act request asking for any video footage you captured of them attending the presidential campaign debate the previous weekend that your officers provided overwatch security using a SmartBalloon. Who is going to take care of this? Can your agency afford to allocate the time required to legally fulfill these obligations? Even though you may not legally be classified as a "federal agency", are you still obligated to fulfill these requests? What are the community relations implication of ignoring such requests?
Problems like these are currently being faced by police department and law enforcement organizations around the U.S. However, there is a relatively simple solution.
Airborne Response was created with the specific intention of providing law enforcement and emergency responders with a turn-key small unmanned aircraft systems aviation solution for all of their mission needs. Airborne Response works with agencies of all sizes to develop customized solutions that meet their specific requirements. Contact Airborne Response today at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn how your department implement a cost effective unmanned aviation solution today!