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Police chiefs issue rules for UAV flights

Code of conduct aims to quell issues of privacy raised by concerned citizens

By PoliceOne Staff

Amid growing law enforcement interest in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), police chiefs have released a code of conduct governing their use that aims to quell issues of privacy raised by concerned citizens.

The IACP states in a three-page document that images captured by the devices should be viewable to the public and unless they are part of an investigation, not be kept on file. Officers should also obtain a search warrant before flying UAVs over any private area where they may suspect criminal activity.

The guidelines contain eight operational procedures:  

1.) UA operations require a Certificate of Authorization (COA) 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.

2.) UA 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.

3.) All flights will be approved by a supervisor and must be for a legitimate public safety mission, training, or demonstration purposes.

4.) 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.

5.) 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.

6.) Unauthorized use of a UA will result in strict accountability.

7.) 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.

8.) 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.

Experts said the chiefs have struck a good balance between interests of police and the citizens they keep safe.

“We applaud the IACP for putting forward these guidelines as part of law enforcement’s simultaneous commitment to protect communities, as well as the rights of the members of those communities,” said Michael Toscano, CEO of The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.

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