Community Policing and UAS

The importance of an informed, thoroughly planned, and transparent decision to purchase a sUAS made with community support can be driven home by a few examples of what happened when police agencies purchased a sUAS without careful planning and consideration of community concerns.

Lessons Learned

  • The Seattle Police Department purchased two unmanned aircraft systems with funds provided by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Public outcry over the possibility of their use for spying and other privacy concerns led the mayor to cancel the program before the sUAS ever flew.

  • The Los Angeles Police Department which received the banished Seattle PD sUAS as a donation was forced to state publicly that it had no plans to use them for the forseeable future.

  • The Boston Police Department was forced to publicly defend their sUAS purchase after the ACLU criticized them for not notifying the public first.

Why Community Policing and UAS?

Community policing derives from the concept that trust and mutual respect between police and the communities they serve is critical to public safety. Building on community policing principles of transparency and co-production gives law enforcement leaders a vehicle to navigate rocky terrain while continuing to build trust with the community when considering establishing a sUAS program. Ensuring community input into the decision making process, from idea inception through implementation, helps to ensure community trust and promote accountability.

Questions to consider:

  • How can UAS deployment affect community trust in the police and what can the police do to uphold that trust?

  • What are the primary community apprehensions police are likely to encounter when planning for and deploying UAS and how can they best address them? (Cohen McCullough 2014)

  • How can police use sUAS for life-saving missions while maintaining their commitment to procedural justice, transparency, and accountability?

  • What technological and operational considerations should police consider prior to the acquisition and implementation of any new technology such as sUAS?

Fostering Police – Community Partnerships

Partnerships for problem solving are at the heart of the community policing philosophy. While there are many potential partners within any given community, building consensus about sUAS will require partnerships centered on developing solutions to problems.

In identifying appropriate stakeholders with whom to forge those partnerships, it is important for police agencies to consider the public safety issues that are most prevalent in their community. It is also important not to forget your own department personnel! Obtaining consensus regarding UAS at all levels within the department is as important as obtaining consensus from the community.

Potential stakeholder partners:

  • Individual community members and community groups

  • Other government agencies

  • Lawmakers

  • Non-profit organizations

  • Private businesses

  • Media

  • Department personnel

Focus on the Field

Departments that were successful in standing a sUAS program made community outreach a central feature of their planning and utilized tools such as Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) to help address common questions. 

Visit the Resources page for samples of actual FAQs developed by departments with successful sUAS programs.

Departments that were successful in creating a sUAS program said they made community outreach a central feature of their planning and utilized tools such as Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) to help address common questions related to sUAS.

Community Concerns and Liability

For communities to be open to the use of sUAS by law enforcement, the public safety benefits of their use must clearly outweigh any potential risks of injury posed to both people and property as well as recognize and address their concerns.

To proactively address potential liability and minimize risk, law enforcement agencies should have a clear understanding of how and when they could be subject to civil law suits by members of their communities.

Specific UAS incidents that could expose a law enforcement agency to civil liability as well as undermine community policing efforts include:

  • UAS collisions

  • Violations of property rights

  • Interference with communication systems

  • Violations of a person’s right to privacy

  • Violations of the First Amendment

  • Liability based on federal statute

Accountability

Measures for ensuring accountability to the community are key and should be established early.

What steps will your department need to take to assure the community that your department will be held 100 percent accountable for all use of the sUAS and the data it collects?

The exact procedures for ensuring accountability will vary from department to department but the responsibility for carrying them out will likely rest with community policing officers and citizen advisory boards.

The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing (2015):

Law enforcement agencies should encourage public engagement and collaboration, including the use of community advisory bodies, when developing a policy for the use of a new technology.

Focus on the Field

The Newton (Kansas) police department has partnered with the Wichita Eagle to demonstrate the department's new sUAS. By doing so, the department has also been able to explain the departmental policies governing its use, showing the community that there is an accountability structure in place. 

The Mesa County Sheriff’s Office has for several years now introduced their sUAS to the community at the annual Mesa County Safety Fair, where the sUAS team is available to showcase the aircraft, answer questions, and provide the opportunity to members of the community to see the systems up close.

Leveraging the Media as a Partner

Community policing advocates recommend police partnerships with the media as a beneficial strategy for helping raise public awareness and encourage participation in community-based projects. Similar to individual and community partnerships, each partnership with local media outlets will be unique. As such, there is no standard media plan that will work for all.

Media plans should make use of a wide variety of platforms, including local television, the Internet, radio, and newspapers. Social media can connect law enforcement with segments of the community (such as youth) that may not be reached as readily with traditional media. Many police departments have successfully employed social media to disseminate information to the public.
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Press Release

WASHINGTON — Ensuring the safety of the public is a core mission for all professional law enforcement agencies...click to read more. 

Focus on the Field

Upon being granted a C.O.A. for a Draganflyer X6 sUAS, the Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Department sent out a press release to the media and community describing the sUAS and detailing the jurisdiction and restrictions on its use.

Upon being granted a C.O.A. for a Draganflyer X6 sUAS, the Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Department sent out a press release to the media and community describing the sUAS and detailing the jurisdiction and restrictions on its use.