Wider Use of Drones by Law Enforcement and Fire Departments Anticipated Soon

Since November 2014, the FAA’s UAV integration office has experienced a surge of applications for the use of drones from law enforcement, fire department and first responder agencies.

The FAA recently approved the use of UAV’s by the Michigan State Police. State police applications are significant because they are authorized for statewide operation rather than being limited to a county or city.

Another major application nearing approval is a request to fly UAV’s from the New York City Fire Department. They want to acquire a UAS for each of their five rescue battalions for aerial surveillance of major structure fires or disasters. Other large cities are expected to seek approval for their fire departments to fly UAS.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Secret Service announced it has begun testing drones in the closely guarded Washington, D.C. area. Even more noteworthy is the expected approval of a memorandum of understanding allowing the FBI to operate unmanned aerial systems in “defined incident perimeters” nationwide.

The main uses of UAS by law enforcement at this time are for post-crime scene surveillance, post-crash forensics, support of SWAT teams and ongoing critical situations such as bomb threats or active shooters.

The FAA is now proposing to add a new Part 107 to the Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) to allow for routine civil operation of small UAS in the national airspace and to provide safety rules for those operations. One of the provisions that will need to be revised is the one precluding nighttime operations, since most crimes occur at night. Unfortunately, due to public concerns for invasion of privacy and physical threats, deployment of UAS for law enforcement purposes has been slowed.