The Use Of Police Drones In Law Enforcement and Investigations

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Police Drone
Learn how drones are used in law enforcement and private investigations.

What are Police Drones?

Drones are unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that are remote controlled. Drones can be equipped with various pieces of equipment such as daytime video recorders, low visibility surveillance video, live feed cameras, radar sensors, digital cameras, radio equipment, infrared cameras, sound recorders, laser scanners, thermal imaging, and GPS equipment. Eventually, weapon-ready police drones may include equipment like stun guns, automatic fire weapons, tasers, and grenades depending on the situation but so far no police drones have been equipped with such weapons.

Although law enforcement drones are still in the beginning stages, they are already becoming increasingly important to police investigations. Many police drones are being used for search and rescue missions where a low flying aerial view is more powerful than using a “bird in the sky” or helicopter, or “boots on the ground”, often consisting of tens or even hundreds of officers patrolling an area on foot. Police drones are also being used to document crime scenes more accurately, helping to solve cases more quickly and helping to preserve more details that prosecutors can use to help convict criminals. Bomb squads can use police drones to access otherwise impossible to reach places. Police drones can easily become life savers in situations where people are lost or missing. such as a child getting lost (or kidnapped) at a large amusement park or hikers getting lost in the mountains.

Regulatory and Legal Issues Regarding Police Drones

The regulatory and legal issues surrounding the use of police drones are still being worked out. Currently, the federal government maintains full jurisdiction over the sky. Therefore, police departments and other law enforcement agencies must apply to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for permission to use police drones. The FAA in turn bases its decision on whether or not a particular police department is granted permission to use drones solely on public safety concerns.

However, once a police department is granted permission to use drones, the various civil rights and privacy laws that could potentially come into play are controlled by each individual state legislature, as well as the laws created by local jurisdictions, i.e. county and city governments. This means that some police departments currently must get a warrant before they use police drones or any type of unmanned aerial vehicles for surveillance purposes whereas others are not required to do so. However, even in jurisdictions where a warrant is not legally required, many police departments have created their own internal regulations.

It should be noted that members in both the United States Senate and the United States House of Representatives have introduced bills that would require all police departments in all states, and across all local jurisdictions, to get a warrant to use police drones. Although these early drone bills died before a vote could be taken, similar bills are expected to be introduced in the near future.

States legislatures are also grappling with whether or not to create laws that set the same standards for drone usage in every local jurisdiction within their state. For example, in California, the state assembly passed a bill in 2014 that would have required every police department in the entire state to get a search warrant every time they flew a drone except in emergency cases. However, Governor Jerry Brown vetoed the bill because he felt the “emergency cases” were too narrowly defined in the bill.

There is no doubt, however, that a new bill will be drafted in the near future so that is something to watch for. So far, a total of fourteen states have passed laws that specifically restrict the usage of drones by law enforcement, usually requiring a warrant before they can be used.

Drones Used By Law Enforcement

Police drones are already being used for reconnaissance missions to spy on criminals and collect the valuable information needed to make a bust. One of the most famous examples of this was the Jimmy Lee Dykes case where the FBI used a drone to peer into Dykes’ bunker through an open pipe. In this way, they were able to see the exact moment that negotiations started to break down. Further, it allowed them to more precisely and accurately kill Dyke without hurting the five year old boy he was holding hostage.

Currently, most drones stay airborne with quadricopters, helicopter style spinning blades. However, engineers are busy designing drones that will stay airborne and maneuver in a completely different way. Many are looking to model drones after animals like hummingbirds and insects. These types of designs are called “biomimetic designs” because they mimic nature. There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel when Mother Nature has already perfected it.

A drone that mimics an insect could potentially be very tiny and could maneuver unnoticed through any tiny open space, the same way insects get into your house or office.

In the future, some police departments hope to use police drones as an advanced tool to solve crimes and find criminals. For example, some advocate that drones would be very useful in finding discarded weapons. Likewise, some believe that criminals could be found by taking thousands of photographs and analyzing these with some sort of face recognition software. License plates and other identifying markers could be searched in essentially the same way.

Some police departments also value drones for their ability to capture a crime scene at very high resolution and at multiple angles before anyone, including the investigators, contaminate the scene. Border crossing patrols are also enthusiastic about the potential for drone surveillance, especially if equipped with movement sensors.

If an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s accidentally wanders away from her care facility, she could endanger herself, and even other people, if she enters a busy street for example. With drone technology, this woman could be located much more quickly minimizing the potential for tragedy.

If a man has climbed to the top of a building and is threatening to commit suicide by jumping, a police drone could be used to access the best way to get rescuers to the man without him noticing and his life could be saved.

While it is 100% certain that police drones can help save lives and solve crimes, many civil rights groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), do fear that drones could become an invasion of privacy. Legislators and police departments will certainly need to work on creating policies that reach a delicate balance between keeping the public safe and interfering too much in private lives.

Before the public can become comfortable with drones, they may need to witness firsthand dramatic rescues using drones, both nationally and in their own communities.

If you have any questions about Police Drones, please leave a comment below. Learn how to register a drone with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

2 COMMENTS

  1. Hello I was wandering is the United States of America really Free? I mean we have become a country that everything any one does is being watched. They are cameras at every traffic light thereis cameras every where you go, like restaraunts, store,s grocery stores ,shopping centers ,Amusement parks, Movie Theatre I think its sad and its not right to be watched every where. Our children are growing up in a society where they are too scared to do anything at all because they feel they are being watched/ I understand that as long as no ones doing anything wrong then nothing to worry about but thats not always the case sometimes you wont be doing and wrong and still be accused of doing wrong. I believe as a citizen of the United States of America we should have the right to vote for these things like Drones We should be able to feel like we are “Free Country.”.. Being watched isn’t being free…I don’t know how far these drones have already gone into effect and I certainly don’t like the idea of feeling unsafe. Even some United States Officers are crooked and that being said they could use these drones to watch woman change little girls change and even find a way to be in there home. I really hope and pray that Our President which is wonderful will take this very seriously. This isn’t safe. Its really not and as far as others go that buy one they shouldn’t be sold its only going to be trouble . We have enough nonsense goin on as it is without 1 more thing that’s going to lead to a lot of trouble. Our law stares that if you feel threatened or unsafe someone or anyone comes into your home in the middle of the night say a murderer or thief or even a rapist etc… were to come in your home if he/she were to break in your home we have the right to protect and bare arms. So how in the world could Americans possibly feel safe with these drones? We don’t know who’s using them.. Good and Bad ..???If its the bad were in trouble because then were really not safe at all.. Our children aren’t safe as well as anyone else. Killers Rapists Pdafilists etc,, could be watching and listening recording even our own government and police department..our homes our families. I feel their will be an increase in crime and more Amber Alerts than ever using these drones..Please I want everyone to feel safe and Please really think this through not just on positive side but on the negative side.These drones get in the wrong hands we are in a world of trouble more than before. AGAINST DRONES PROMOTE SAFETY SAY NO TO DRONES. IM A MOTHER OF 3.I have A FAMILY WHOM I LOVE VERY MUCH!

  2. Just a few days ago, there was a court ruling allowing the fight of small weight drones, I reside in Texas and there is State law that prohibits the flight of drones over private property – a real problem if you are a private investigator trying to do surveillance. Hopefully, State law will change according to FAA regulations.

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