Conducting a Law Enforcement Needs Assessment

Determining whether your community is ready for UAS technology is a critical component of a needs assessment. A final determination of need should aggregate the findings from the technology research, cost benefit research, and legal research conducted along with the community and stakeholder input obtained.

The major goals of a needs assessment are:

  • Determining whether your department in fact needs a sUAS prior to acquiring one.

  • Thinking through your department’s preparedness for dealing with sUAS use.

  • Identifying how to engage your community in the implementation of the sUAS program.

Determining Need and Preparedness

In a 2015 sUAS concepts and issues paper, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) recommends the needs assessment as the very first step an agency should take when considering the introduction of any new and emerging technology into a department.

We second that recommendation.

It is important for agencies to conduct a methodical assessment of both department and community needs in determining whether UAS technology is right for the community and necessary for the department.

A needs assessment will require: 

  • Background research on the sUAS system including cost-benefit calculations to demonstrate value for the department

  • Legal research to lay out the legal grounds for use and policy development related to use

  • Technological assessment of current and needed capabilities for data storage and security

  • Assessment of current staffing and training needs

  • Assessment of community understanding and support

While decisions to acquire new technology should always be driven by organizational mission and demonstrated need, for police departments using community-policing philosophies, assessing the need for sUAS must also start with a scan of community and stakeholder sentiment regarding the technology.

Ways to Engage Your Community Around sUAS

There are many ways that a department can engage a community while conducting a needs assessment as well as during the implementation of a sUAS program.

Ways to engage your community around sUAS:

  • Via Direct Engagement

    • Seek out opportunities to educate the community about the sUAS program and be open to the community’s concerns and suggestions.
    • Invite the media and community leaders in small groups to an sUAS training mission where the sUAS it being utilized to demonstrate how the sUAS team works to protect safety and privacy.
    • Send the sUAS team to community group meetings to display the sUAS and explain the agency’s plan of operations and the commitment to safety and privacy.
  • Via Partnerships

    • Work with existing stakeholder organizations such as citizen advisory boards to involve community representatives and gain their perspective. They can be a great partner in conveying information back to the community in light of limited departmental resources.
    • Work with the media to inform the community of scheduled testing being led by the department and leverage them to discuss both successes and failures in the department’s use of UAS.
  • Via Department Website

    • Make it easy to find information about the sUAS program on the department website and provide detailed answers to frequently asked questions.
    • Post photos and video on the agency website and provide links and updates on the agency’s social media platforms.

Members of the Police Foundation national advisory board on sUAS and public safety strongly advise that agencies considering a sUAS program begin the process of community engagement very early on. Departments that have been successful in creating a sUAS program said they made community outreach a central feature of their planning. These agencies also operate with a high level of transparency not only in the beginning phases of assessment and program implementation but throughout the life of the program.

Focus on the Field

Arlington (TX) Police Chief Will Johnson has said that his agency made the rounds to every possible community group, showing off the small UAS the department planned to deploy and laying out in detail how it would be used for community and officer safety. The sessions directly confronted concerns and laid out the department’s policies to ensure privacy would be protected. In addition, they made the case for how the sUAS could save taxpayer funds.

“We emphasized price, privacy, regulations and responsible deployment, and we really reduced anxiety,” Johnson said.

 | Arlington (TX) Police Chief Will Johnson said his agency made the rounds to every possible community group, showing off the small UAS the department planned to deploy and laying out in detail how it would be used for community and officer safety. The sessions directly confronted concerns and laid out the department’s policies to ensure privacy would be protected. In addition, they made the case for how a sUAS could save taxpayer funds.
“We emphasized price, privacy, regulations and responsible deployment, and we really reduced anxiety,” Johnson said.

Police Foundation sUAS Resources

pfchecklist

Checklist

Checklist for planning & implementation.

legal-2research

Legal Memo

UAS research.

matrix

Matrix

Privacy Impact Assessment Matrix.
legal-understanding

Legal Memo

Building public understanding.