Drone policing in US seen as 'Wild West'

September 13, 2015 by Veronique Dupont
Consultants from Flyspan Solutions demonstrate a drone intended for police use, during the first-ever Drone Expo in Los Angeles,
Consultants from Flyspan Solutions demonstrate a drone intended for police use, during the first-ever Drone Expo in Los Angeles, California, December 13, 2014

Drones are increasingly making their mark in the arsenal of US police forces, operating in a legal gray area and sparking concerns of constant surveillance of civilians.

The specter of armed drones surfaced with a law passed in North Dakota last month that allows police to equip the aircraft with teargas.

"It's still a bit of a Wild West," said American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) policy analyst Jay Stanley.

Since 2012, can use small drones—weighing less than 55 pounds, or 25 kilograms—under certain conditions and after obtaining a certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration.

But the FAA, which is preparing small drone regulations, does not have authority on privacy protection and there is no specific framework on the issue on a national level.

Up to two dozen are currently fully equipped with drones and trained to use them, including pioneers Grand Forks in North Dakota; Arlington, Texas; Mesa County, Colorado and the Utah Highway Patrol.

Mass surveillance

According to the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation, at least 60 police forces across the country—from Houston, Texas, to Mobile, Alabama, North Little Rock, Arkansas, and Miami-Dade County—have asked for drone certification.

The FBI also uses drones for specific missions.

Through the drones, gets a bird's eye view of accident and crime scenes, can search for suspects or missing people and obtain tactical information when, for example, a dangerous suspect has barricaded himself.

A drone hovers over a police vehicle near a simulated accident scene with a chemical spill during a demonstration at Virginia Te
A drone hovers over a police vehicle near a simulated accident scene with a chemical spill during a demonstration at Virginia Tech, August 13, 2014 in Blacksburg, Virginia

The unmanned aircraft cost police $15,000 to $50,000, far less than the $500,000 to $3 million a helicopter can fetch.

Some cities, like San Jose, California, only have pilot programs. Others such as Seattle, Washington, bought drones and then gave up on the program in the face of public outcry.

Many government agencies "are just waiting to see how things settle down and waiting to see further development of these systems," said Philip Finnegan of the Teal Group aerospace and defense consulting company.

"For a lot of them, it's not worth the political risk."

He predicted that the commercial market will take off within five years as the public grows increasingly comfortable with drones and law enforcement uses them more.

Rights groups are not opposed to drones as such but rather are concerned that some law enforcement agencies will use them for constant surveillance of the population.

"Without proper regulation, drones equipped with facial recognition software, infrared technology and speakers capable of monitoring personal conversations would cause unprecedented invasions of our privacy rights," the ACLU said.

"Interconnected drones could enable mass tracking of vehicles and people in wide areas," it added.

Maintenence personel prepare a Predator drone before its surveillance flight near the Mexican border on March 7, 2013 from Fort
Maintenence personel prepare a Predator drone before its surveillance flight near the Mexican border on March 7, 2013 from Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista, Arizona

"Tiny drones could go completely unnoticed while peering into the window of a home or place of worship."

The Electronic Privacy Information Center, for one, is calling for a warrant before each police drone flight.

"When you see what the FBI has been wanting to do with the Stingray technology, that's very troubling," said Patrick Eddington of the Cato Institute, referring to phone trackers.

Critics are also concerned about wasted public funds.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, for example, bought $600,000 worth of drones without ever using them.

Customs and Border Protection meanwhile froze its purchase program after one of its large Predator military drones—with a price tag of $12 million a piece—crashed.

But if Grand Forks police are seeking to equip their drones with tear gas, it's an isolated case for now.

"There's a consensus that it's a bad idea," Stanley said about installing weapons, even non-lethal ones, on .

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14 comments

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docile
Sep 13, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Doug_Huffman
not rated yet Sep 13, 2015
Drone shot down at Inhofe fundraiser. A spokesperson for S.H.A.R.K. also said the sheriff refused to investigate the downing, insisting shooting a drone is not illegal.
http://kfor.com/2...draiser/
gkam
1 / 5 (6) Sep 13, 2015
Don't I own the air rights over my property? How high do they go?
ab3a
5 / 5 (3) Sep 13, 2015
The only thing that works in this business is plain old civility. The ability to peep in to windows has existed with telescopes and high powered binoculars for many years. The ability to spy on people from above has also existed since the invention of the airplane and the helicopter.

My take on this is that if you can bring a drone down with a water hose, it's too close. If you live in a rural area and you can bring it down with a shotgun loaded with bird-shot, it's too close.

The bottom line is that if you flew a manned aircraft in this manner, you'd be cited. It should be no different for an unmanned aircraft. Pilots should obtain permission from the various property owners before flying, or else be prepared to fly in controlled airspace at reasonable altitudes.
Captain Stumpy
4 / 5 (4) Sep 13, 2015
The bottom line is that if you flew a manned aircraft in this manner, you'd be cited
@ab3a
depends upon the A/C, airspace and license... like unlicensed A/C/controlled airspace, etc

you are right: you can be ticketed for flying over people or populated areas (depending on controlled airspace and license/Aircraft)

https://en.wikipe...erations

https://en.wikipe...d_States

for those interested: http://www.usua.o...a103.htm

advisory circulars: http://www.usua.o...03-7.pdf

you can skip to the area here if you wish: Section 103.15 Operations over congested areas

docile
Sep 13, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
docile
Sep 13, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
24volts
5 / 5 (2) Sep 13, 2015
Don't I own the air rights over my property? How high do they go?


No. You don't. Most areas only give you about 250 ft as that's the minimum for helo's and stuff like that to hover or fly over an area ( at least locally where I live) Under that is a gray area and it depends on your local laws but the odds are it's not legal to shoot the drone and you would have to have police find the operator and deal with that person. Personally I think a air powered large bore hand cannon loaded with a small net made of fishing line and small weights to capture the thing might could possibly get around the law in some places. Then the person operating one over my yard can come explain to me why in hopes of getting the thing back. Better have a very good 'why' too if they expect to see it again in one piece.

gkam
1 / 5 (5) Sep 14, 2015
I would never shoot at a drone. What kind of idiot does that? Where does the bullet land?

Some folk with guns think everything can be solved with them.
Estevan57
4 / 5 (4) Sep 14, 2015
A person that doesn't want to be filmed, that's what kind of person, gkam.
It was at a pigeon shoot, you idiot! The pellets land in a field.

Read what you are reacting to. Some people without guns can't be bothered to educate themselves before posting.
gkam
1 / 5 (5) Sep 14, 2015
I do not go to pigeon shoots, because I do not have the pathetic need to kill living things for kicks.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Sep 14, 2015
Under that is a gray area and it depends on your local laws but the odds are it's not legal to shoot the drone and you would have to have police find the operator and deal with that person.

Not to mention: unless your property is pretty large and you can be 100% sure that the bullets land on your own property if you miss you will find yourself sued for all kinds of mischief (up to and including attempted manslaughter if it lands near someone else)
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (3) Sep 14, 2015
""It's still a bit of a Wild West," said American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) policy analyst Jay Stanley."

-See, this is why trump will be the next president. People are tired of the jindal fast-talkers and politico-babblers, and the preacher talk and t shirt slogans. Case in point - rick perry.
https://www.youtu...xEopVICs

-People think its ok for cops to ride around in cars and walk down your sidewalk and follow you in planes but when a safer, cheaper, and more effective way of doing this is invented, the ACLU idiots and gkam psychopaths and eurodisney fantasists scream 'big brother' as if people mindlessly respond to that phrase like it was still1975.

They dont. People have grown up.

Car chases kill people. Drones will make them much safer. Most everybody knows this.
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (3) Sep 15, 2015
you can be 100% sure that the bullets land on your own property
@AA_P
shotgun. ballistics are greatly affected by wind, moisture, humidity, gravity, etc... you only need a small area to insure safety

also: FAA laws regulate airspace above people by aircraft, but don't cover drones. that is civil, not criminal... that is why it was ok to shoot down the drone spying and the Sheriff didn't investigate

drones are not widely covered by laws right now, however, privacy is, as well as other civil rights, etc

drones are a cheap easy way to enforce the law. it is a good idea but also hard to actually have a drone that is easily recognized as law enforcement from a distance, so...

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