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Police Chiefs’ Group Issues UAV Use Guidelines

The recommendations include how, and under what circumstances, images collected by UAVs should be retained

A police chiefs’ organization has adopted recommended guidelines for law enforcement’s use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) that include how, and under what circumstances, images collected by UAVs should be retained.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) approved the document—Recommended Guidelines for the use of Unmanned Aircraft (UA)—on Aug. 13, 2012, and in addition to procedures for images, the guidelines define a UAV; recommend that police agencies engage their communities on the use of UAVs; and outline system requirements and operational procedures.

“Over the past several years, the development of small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) have been occurring at an extremely fast pace” and “this technology has been identified as a potentially important tool for public safety,” the IACP says. “As with any new law enforcement technology, there is a need to address various issues concerning its use. One such issue is the deployment of sUAS for legitimate public safety purposes while respecting the privacy of the public,” the association says. The guidelines are designed “to provide agencies with guidance in the development of policies for the use of these important public safety tools,” the IACP says.

In the section on “image retention” the guideline says images of everyday activities should not be retained and those that are retained should be made available for the public to view. “Unless required as evidence of a crime, as part of an on-going investigation, for training, or required by law, images captured by a UA should not be retained by the agency,” the document says. “Unless exempt by law, retained images should be open for public inspection,” it says.

The section on “operational procedures” lists eight recommendations for UAV operation that include obtaining a warrant to conduct aerial surveillance, to certifying pilots are trained to operate such aircraft, to obtaining authorization to fly those systems. The recommended procedures are:

  • UA operations require a certificate of authorization (CAO) from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). A law enforcement agency contemplating the use of UA should contact the FAA early in the planning process to determine the requirements for obtaining a COA.
  • An UAS will only be operated by personnel—both pilots and crew members—who have been trained and certified in the operation of the system. All agency personnel with UA responsibilities, including command officers, will be provided training in the policies and procedures governing their use.
  • All flights will be approved by a supervisor and must be for a legitimate public safety mission, training, or demonstration purposes.
  • All flights will be documented on a form designed for that purpose and all flight time shall be accounted for on the form. The reason for the flight and name of the supervisor approving will also be documented.
  • An authorized supervisor/administrator will audit flight documentation at regular intervals. The results of the audit will be documented. Any changes to the flight time counter will be documented.
  • Unauthorized use of a UA will result in strict accountability.
  • Except for those instances where officer safety could be jeopardized, the agency should consider using a “Reverse 911” telephone system to alert those living and working in the vicinity of aircraft operations (if such a system is available). If such a system is not available, the use of patrol car public address systems should be considered. This will not only provide a level of safety should the aircraft make an uncontrolled landing, but citizens may also be able to assist with the incident.
  • Where there are specific and articulable grounds to believe that the UA will collect evidence of criminal wrongdoing, and if the UA will intrude upon reasonable expectations of privacy, the agency will secure a search warrant prior to conducting the flight.