Arm domestic drones? Police aviation committee says “no”

September 7, 2012
The aviation committee of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) recently issued recommended guidelines for the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) by law enforcement agencies.

Police utility v. privacy concerns
On its opening page, the report notes that UAV drones hold multiple benefits for law enforcement personnel, including improving officer safety by exposing unseen dangers, and offering assistance in locating lost individuals. At the same time, the report sounds a note of caution about UAVs and privacy concerns. Such concerns, the report notes, “are an issue that must be dealt with effectively” if a law enforcement agency expects the public to support the use of UAVs by police.

The IACP report goes on to make several specific recommendations about the use and implementation of UAV drones:

Community engagement
• “Law enforcement agencies desiring to use (drones) should first determine how they will use this technology, including the costs and benefits to be gained.”

• “The agency should then engage their community early in the planning process, including their governing bodies and civil liberties advocates.”

Operational procedures
• All flights must be approved by a supervisor,” and should be for “a legitimate public safety mission, training, or demonstration purpose.”

• Warrants should be sought in the event that UAV use “will intrude upon reasonable expectations of privacy” or if there are “specific and articulable grounds to believe that (drone use) will collect evidence of criminal wrongdoing.”

• Images captured by drones should not be retained, unless they are required as evidence, are necessary to an ongoing investigation, or are otherwise required by law.

System requirements
• UAVs “should be painted with a high-visibility color scheme” to allow for line-of-sight control from the ground. The report notes that such a color scheme might not be optimal for high-risk warrant service, however.

Finally, the report recommends against arming drone aircraft, both from the standpoint of operational feasibility, and due to possible negative public relations fallout. “Public acceptance of airborne use of force is … doubtful, and could result in unnecessary community resistance,” the report states.

The proposed IACP guidelines are part of a larger, ongoing process in the United States. At present, the legal and regulatory framework for the domestic use of drones is in the process of being solidified. For instance, the FAA has until 2015 to issue its own guidelines for the use of drones by private entities.

Find the IACP’s full report in our document archive.