Drones, used by many police departments, face both praise and criticism for their use.  -  Photo: Pixabay

Drones, used by many police departments, face both praise and criticism for their use.

Photo: Pixabay

Drones are a valuable tool for law enforcement to get a bird's-eye view of an incident as it unfolds. Though sometimes, there are concerns over drone policiesGovernment Fleet has a roundup of some of the latest drone news in the law enforcement sector.

Texas PD First in the Nation to Earn FAA Certificate of Authorization

Pearland PD's COA from the FAA allows the department to deploy a drone without a human visual observer.  -  Photo: Pearland Police Department

Pearland PD's COA from the FAA allows the department to deploy a drone without a human visual observer.

Photo: Pearland Police Department

The Pearland, Texas, Police Department announced it was the first law enforcement agency in the nation to be awarded a Certificate of Authorization (COA) from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to operate the Drone as First Responder program (DFR) in a beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operation, eliminating the need for human visual observers.

In a Facebook post, the department announced it has been testing the DFR program and how it responds to emergency calls. The drone adds the ability to do so without an observer present. The DFR program allows first responders to be ‘on scene’ virtually, in minimum response time, allowing them to observe the scene and relay critical information to other responding officers, the fire department, or other essential personnel. These ‘early eyes on scene’ can be the difference between life and death, allowing for the appropriate level of response, which includes reducing the over deployment of resources, the department explained. The drone has the ability to fly without having to navigate traffic, so it would be the first unit to arrive on location.

The FAA waiver is related to the Iris Automated System that is installed on various city buildings and structures throughout the city. This system allows for deconfliction to keep the drone from flying into the path of another aircraft, without having to have a human visual observer, which is currently required.

With a 360°degree field of regard, the Casia G detects, alerts, and enables operators to avoid both local and commercial aircraft. The Casia G allows the drone operator to operate the drone remotely from a safe location, while monitoring the drone via computer software.

"In a climate where personnel shortages are impacting first responders across the nation, having a fully BVLOS drone as first responder program greatly enhances resource allocation while maintaining a high level of situational awareness for first responder safety," Pearland PD Assistant Chief of Police Chad Randall said.

The department has been operating Casia G systems since last summer, collecting and analyzing performance data and submitting that data to the FAA, which resulted in this approval.

PD Seeks Drones for Crash Scene Mapping

The Portland, Oregon, Police Bureau is seeking to purchase a drone system. According to the agenda item, the bureau asked the city council to divert $80,000 from its existing budget for the purchase. The bureau's current crime scene mapping system and its equipment is "slow and provide low resolution output," according to the request.

The bureau currently has one drone, a DJI Phantom 4 Pro, purchased several years ago, as a replacement for its current traffic scene capture system. However, it has not yet been deployed for use. The bureau noted poor timing and personnel losses put the project on hold.

The agency wants to  acquire up to twelve drones with more current advanced technological specifications to capture high-resolution images with greater rapidity and capability for use in mapping and measuring localized areas in traffic accident scenes, crime scenes, and other operational purposes. It also wants to use the drones to "augment human resources" during critical incidents to provide information about safety concerns, such as with a hostage situation, and to use to deescalate in-progress situations.

A recent Bloomberg CityLab report detailed a resolution passed in Portland on February 1 that requires the city to assess its use of surveillance-related technologies, like traffic-safety sensors and police license plate readers. Unlike the city's ban on facial recognition in 2020, the surveillance resolution does not prohibit use of any technologies, nor does it create direct pathways for blocking them, according to Bloomberg CityLab. The agenda item detailing the drone purchase request mentions the resolution, stating the bureau will work with the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability and Office of Equity and Human Rights on the use of the drone's video feature and capability, to ensure it is complying.

The bureau stated that it created Standard Operating Procedures with safety, security, and respect for privacy in mind. The drones will not be used for mass surveillance, or for targeting individuals based on individual characteristics such as race. Harassment and crowd management are also prohibited.

The request notes a positive impact the drones could have on the community.

"Closures due to police activity impact communities monetarily, and can be invasive and anxiety-inducing.  Portland Police Bureau would like to implement a pilot project to introduce [drones] into their investigative processes."

The agenda item passed to a second reading, which is set for April 5.

Refined Camera Policies Include Use of Drones by California PD

The Berkeley, California, Police Department is reassessing its camera policy just over a year after approving a $1.2 million surveillance program. The policies impact surveillance cameras installed around the city. At the same time the city is refining its camera policies, it is also developing a policy for the use of borrowed drones from neighboring law enforcement agencies. According to Berkeleyside, critics of the camera program have expressed fear that the city is "slumping into a surveillance state."

The proposed uses for borrowed drones includes mass-casualty incidents, disasters, lost or missing persons, the release of hazardous materials, sideshows, rescues, training, and situations where officers would otherwise be put at risk, according to the proposed drone policy. In 2012, the city council considered, then later rejected, a recommendation from the Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission to make the city a "No Drone Zone." The council approved limited uses for the Berkeley Fire Department but put a one-year moratorium on the police department’s use or acquisition of drones in 2015, even though the department had no plans to use one.

Berkeley's Police Accountability Board wrote that the proposed drone policy could "have significant negative consequences for civil liberties and privacy, and harm the relationship between the police and the community,” among other concerns.

Police intend to submit revised policy proposals to the city council in May.

Drones Prove Beneficial Just After Montana PD Launches Program

The Billings, Montana, Police Department recently launched a drone program after purchasing five Mavic 3 drones and two Avata drones using drug forfeiture money. According to Montana Right Now, the Mavic 3 drones can provide regular or thermal images, while the Avata ones work well inside buildings.

The drones proved critical on March 18 when a woman, accused of shooting a Billings police officer, was in a standoff with law enforcement officers. The department deployed its new drones to see where the suspect was inside the home, according to Billings Beat. The drones allowed the officers to have an accurate idea of where the suspect was during the standoff. She eventually surrendered after 14 hours.

About the author
Christy Grimes

Christy Grimes

Senior Editor

Christy Grimes is a Senior Editor at Bobit, working on Automotive Fleet Government Fleet publications.

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