This month, the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s (IACP) Aviation Committee published their “Recommended Guidelines for the use of Unmanned Aircraft.”  It is just my hunch, but I think that this document is very well balanced because it alienates the maximum number of people.  Those opposed to law enforcement using unmanned aircraft (UA) for any purpose at any time will remain upset.  So will those who want free reign to use UAs freely and maintain imagery and other data as long as possible.

Here’s why:

First, IACP strongly recommends collaboration with the public and media prior to purchasing the vehicles.  This rubs against those who prefer a command and control method of policing.  It is natural that many LEOs would consider this move as giving the bad guys a heads up on how they are going to be chased down.  Others would argue that getting the word out will provide a deterrent effect.

Additionally, the recommended system requirements include high visibility paint to enhance visual contact with the operator and the public.  Many will be happy about the openness this guideline provides while others will figure “Why bother?”  Digging a little deeper, IACP recognizes that some UAs will be used in covert operations where international orange would not be the best color.  The example IACP uses is surveillance during a high-risk warrant when a hard-to-spot UA could be stipulated ahead of time.  The problem with this approach is the increased cost of additional aircraft.

Other provisions in the guidelines include using reverse-911 to advise citizens that a UA is in operation in their neighborhood.  The suggested alternative is patrol cars announcing the operation with loudspeakers.  Seriously?

Some provisions are no-brainers, such as FAA Certification of Operations (COA), qualification of operators, and strict accountability for unauthorized use (such as checking on your ex or buzzing a clothing optional beach).  Supervisory approval, flight documentation, and operational/policy training are stressed in the guidelines.

Personally, I was disappointed that IACP did not mention remotely operated unmanned aircraft, let alone autonomous unmanned aircraft.  As technology advances, the cost of these high-tech systems will decrease as their numbers increase.  I can only assume that IACP will be revisiting this issue within the next few years and hope they rethink some of their guidelines, which defy common sense.

Bruce Bremer, MBA is LET’s technology contributor. Bruce retired from the Submarine Service after 21 years of in-depth experience with complex electronic technology. Since then, he has been involved in fleet modernization and military research analysis. He teaches electronics and alternative energy at a Virginia college. Besides his MBA, Bruce earned a Bachelor of Science degree in computer networking. He has been volunteering in public safety for many years.

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