New report on drone usage by the US police

In December, the US Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) published a new report with its partners at the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) entitled ‘Roadmap to Implementing an Effective Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Programme. Drones, as UAS are generally known, present one of the most exciting frontiers in law enforcement by giving departments an essential tool with which to gather vital situational data without placing law enforcement professionals in harm’s way. The report is a guide to launching a drone programme and is available on the COPS Office website.

The report on the use of drones by public safety agencies is a wake-up call about the threat of malicious drone attacks.

Last year, the COPS office, the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the PERF convened a two-day conference for experts across the law enforcement community on drones, their use and implementation, and attendant policy and operational issues. Representatives from several agencies presented on several topics:

  • Regulations, community concerns, budgetary matters, and promising practices for setting up programmes for the use of drones in law enforcement
  • Recommendations for operating such a programme, including training and staffing
  • Counter-use matters, such as detection and disabling technology and dangerous illegal drone use by bad actors

This report summarises the information discussed at that conference and also presents lessons learned and promising practices gathered from interviews, policy reviews, and survey data.  The presentations and discussions from this event have informed all of our UAS work going forward.

This report is about two opposite but related issues: 

  • The use of drones by police agencies to protect public safety. 
  • The use of drones by malicious actors to commit various crimes such as acts of terrorism.  Thus, the story of drones is about two radically different sides of the same coin.

A number of federal and local law enforcement agencies have begun to explore counter-drone strategies at major events and mass gatherings such as the Super Bowl. But this work is still developing. Federal, state, and local lawmakers and government officials, including law enforcement officials, should accelerate their efforts to address these issues as soon as possible.

All law enforcement agencies, whether or not they wish to begin a programme for using drones for their own purposes, must consider a related but far more difficult challenge: how to anticipate, prevent, detect, and respond to the criminal use of drones, including use by terrorists.  For example, terrorists could use drones to drop a bomb or spray a poisonous gas over large crowds of people at a public event. Drones also can be extremely effective at reconnaissance for criminal purposes because they can fly past bollards, checkpoints, and other security mechanisms.

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