UAS Program Implementation

There are five fundamental areas that an operational plan for UAS use should address and it is vital that these plans be made in advance and provided to the public, media, and policymakers for review, input, and understanding.

Developing an Operating Plan

At a minimum, an operating plan should address:

How the sUAS will be used in the community

Determine what the department is going to do with the sUAS, be specific, and draw up those protocols in writing. The plan should also include clear delineations on what the sUAS will NOT do.

The laws that will govern sUAS use

Research and explain the laws and regulations that govern law enforcement use of UAS. Doing so will let the public know that you understand the limits of use. Include reference to constitutional protections, state legislation, municipal code, industry standards, open government laws, and departmental policy as it applies to UAS.

Who will operate the sUAS and how safety will be maintained

Develop a working plan that details who will operate the sUAS and when; how they will be trained; what measures will be taken to ensure the safety of the operators and the public; and how adherence to the plan will be documented. The plan should outline in detail how the decision to deploy the sUAS will be made, who will make it, and what limits will be put on its use.

What information the sUAS will collect; how and when; where it will be stored; and who will have access to the data

Decide what data is going to be collected (photos, video, environmental monitoring). Define how the data will be used – for investigations, accident or crime scene reconstruction, or even possible court cases. Set a time limit on how long the data will be held and determine who will have access to the data while it is maintained and how the data will be destroyed.

The plans for engaging the community in conversation regarding sUAS program planning, including addressing privacy and other concerns

It is important that the community be aware that the issues above are being carefully addressed. Ensure that all information regarding UAS data collection is made available to community members in an easily accessible format and location. Explore the creation of forums for the community to hear about the project status and to communicate suggestions and concerns.

Police Foundation sUAS Resources

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Fact Sheet

States with UAS Legislation Applicable to Police.

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Legal Memo

Liability Analysis and Risk Management Considerations.

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Legal Memo

Notice, Use, and Retention of UAS Collected Data.

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Legal Memo

Building Public Understanding.

Developing Departmental UAS Policy, Procedure, and Guidelines

As with the implementation of any new technology, developing and vetting detailed UAS policy (i.e. operating guidelines, uniform policy, or standard operating procedures) well in advance of first use is critical. Departmental UAS policy should clearly define how departmental personnel are permitted to use UAS technology to increase public safety, including any specific prohibitions that are in place.
Recommended Prohibitions: Focus group and advisory board members recommended that the following activities be specifically prohibited by departmental policy:
  • Any use of force involving a UAS, including weaponization.

  • Generalized patrol and intelligence gathering missions.

  • Data-driven information gathering, such as crowd monitoring or estimating during peaceful demonstrations, or revenue-generating such as monitoring traffic or parking areas.

While there is no model policy that can meet all the needs of every law enforcement agency, there are important considerations and steps that every agency should take in developing solid policy for a department’s use of sUAS.

Important considerations and steps in developing departmental sUAS policy include: 

Conducting constitutional/legal research and/or consulting legal counsel

Many state laws and regulations (in addition to federal ones) will impact how departmental policy is written. A strong legal foundation, along with an understanding of community concerns about privacy and safety should be the blueprint for permitted use of UAS.

Understanding applicable industry guidelines, models, and standards

The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Aviation Committee’s Recommended Guidelines for Use of Unmanned Aircraft should be the starting point for any law enforcement agency endeavoring to create departmental policy for a sUAS program.

Referencing departmental UAS policy from agencies that have established functioning sUAS programs

Contact agencies with established sUAS programs to share information on policies that have been successful in their community, and ones that have caused problems.

Providing detail on procedures

Detail specific UAS procedures for departmental personnel. This may include the operational system, training, data retention, and community engagement procedures, among others.

Drafting a “facts and circumstances” checklist

A reviewing court will look closely at the facts and circumstances of a particular situation when assessing the legality of police use of UAS to monitor, search, and gather electronic data. Consider beforehand the facts and circumstances that a reviewing court will look at in making a determination about the constitutionality of the UAS usage in question and create a checklist to capture that data (e.g. the location of the search, the specified purpose of the search, a description of the technologies used in the search, the type of data that was captured, how privacy issues were addressed etc.).

Pulling all information together into a policy packet that is accessible to department personnel, stakeholders, and the public

Strong community policing is predicated on transparency and the engagement of community members. Make UAS policy available for review and comment by community members and other stakeholders prior to deployment of the sUAS and throughout the life of the sUAS program.

Regularly reviewing, evaluating and updating UAS policy

Departmental policy should be updated on a regular schedule to ensure accuracy and avoid obsolescence. New policy should receive frequent attention as it is used and shaped and the public should be informed of substantive changes in UAS use or policy.

Police Foundation sUAS Resources

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Checklist

Checklist for developing UAS policy and procedure.
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Legal Memo

UAS research.

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Matrix

Privacy Impact Assessment Matrix.
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Model Policy

Coming Soon! sUAS model policy.

IACP UAS Resources

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The following are International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) resources that can be used in developing UAS policy and procedures:

IACP Technology policy framework for PDs (January 2014) →

IACP sUAS concepts & issues paper (May 2015) →

IACP 2012 UAS guidelines (updated version forthcoming) →

IACP sUAS model policy (available to IACP members only) →

Staffing and Training the sUAS Team

Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR), Part 107 only requires one sUAS crew member – a Remote Pilot in Command (RPIC). The use of additional team members, however, is encouraged to ensure that the aircraft remains within sight, avoids obstacles or other aircraft while in operation, and is able to conduct the mission efficiently and effectively.

Important considerations include:

Staffing

Although only a Remote Pilot in Command (RPIC) is required by the FAA, additional personnel may include a visual observer, and a person who manipulates the controls of the sUAS, under direct supervision of the RPIC. The supervisor of the sUAS team and the RPIC should confer during preflight planning to determine the minimum number of personnel required to safely and effectively conduct the flight.

Chain of Command

Agencies that have existing sUAS programs have a clear chain of command outlining who will decide when the sUAS is to be used and under what conditions flight missions should be aborted; what measures will be taken to protect the safety of the operators and the public; and how adherence to the plan will be communicated to the media.

Training

While not required by Part 107, law enforcement agencies are encouraged to fly in a designated remote area until the sUAS team achieves proficiency in flight operations. The sUAS team also needs to fly the system with sufficient frequency to maintain proficiency.

FAA Resource: Becoming a Pilot →

FAA Resource: UAS Regulations & Policies →

FAA Resource: 2017 FAA UAS Symposium →

Focus on the Field

Standard operating procedures for Arlington, TX Police Department list a Special Operations Commander, Team Leader, Assistant team Leader, Pilot in Command, Observer, and Camera and Remote Sensing Operator as integral personnel in a sUAS team, all with clearly defined roles. The Mesa County (CO) Sheriff’s Office requires that the request to fly a sUAS be made by a sergeant or higher level executive. The officer in charge of the unit is a specialist in sUAS use with flight training.

Standard operating procedures for Arlington, TX Police Department list a Special Operations Commander, Team Leader, Assistant team Leader, Pilot in Command, Observer, and Camera and Remote Sensing Operator as integral personnel in a sUAS team, all with clearly defined roles. The Mesa County (CO) Sheriff’s Office requires that the request to fly a sUAS be made by a sergeant or higher level executive. The officer in charge of the unit is a specialist in sUAS use with flight training.