August 9, 2007 1:36 PM PDT

Police agencies push for drone sky patrols

WASHINGTON--Police and public safety agencies across the country are beginning to plot a future in which they can freely launch aerial drones that beam down footage of the scenes below.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) granted more than 100 certifications for use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) by various federal, state and local government agencies last year, and is on pace to approve about 70 applications this year. But some officials are complaining that existing federal regulations are inconsistent and confusing, potentially stymieing their plans for takeoff.

Arguably the most vocal critic on that front is the chairman of the aviation committee for the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the world's oldest and largest nonprofit group of police executives. Donald Shinnamon, whose day job is public safety chief for the small city of Holly Hill, Fla. just north of Daytona Beach, charges that the FAA is applying its rules inconsistently and defying federal laws about government-operated aircraft.

"There is an immediate need by state and local public safety personnel for unmanned aerial systems," he said at an unmanned systems confab here this week. But by his interpretation, the FAA's rules mean "it's OK to fly a model aircraft but not OK to fly an aircraft in search of a murder suspect" without its permission.

To perform an effective job of aerial surveillance, however, means flying drones at higher altitudes--which takes them directly into the flight path of everything from medical helicopters and Cessnas to commercial jets landing at nearby airports. Pilots don't object to police use of drones, but say they must follow the same rules (including avoidance procedures) and undergo similar certification procedures as airplanes. Police agencies insist that would be too expensive.

Unmanned vehicles

Drones have been in use for years by the military and appear to be only growing in popularity. Now they're also becoming alluring to resource-strapped local police departments. They say UAVs can deliver the same--or better--bird's-eye view as a helicopter or airplane, but at a fraction of the cost and with arguably less training and personnel required. (IACP, for its part, hasn't taken an official stance on the issue but is tracking it, a spokeswoman said.)

Say there are swimmers caught in a riptide, and county officials want to send help. It would cost anywhere from $450 to $1,200 per hour for L.A. County Sheriff's Office Commander Charles "Sid" Heal to send one of its helicopters, but a UAV would cost "cents on the dollar," he said. "And if it crashes, it goes into the ocean and floats away."

The FAA admits it is still wrestling with how exactly to keep tabs on the emerging robots' use. It is in the process of finalizing a five-year "road map" for introducing UAVs into the national airspace.

For now, it has imposed a number of rules that attempt to draw lines based on who's operating the UAV and for what purpose.

Civilian or commercial UAV users can apply for an "experimental certificate" that allows flights for research and development or crew-training purposes. (As of late June, the FAA had issued 13 of those documents.) Hobbyists who intend to fly the machines like model airplanes--that is, at altitudes less than 400 feet, away from populated or "noise-sensitive" areas--are generally off the hook.

"Public" users, which include the military and government agencies, are allowed to apply for a permission document known as a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization, or COA for short. They're supposed to show they can control the aircraft in question.

If granted, that certificate allows use of a drone in a defined airspace for a particular period of time, usually up to a year. A COA often contains other restrictions, too, such as limiting flight time to daylight hours or requiring that a ground observer or accompanying "chase" aircraft keep visual contact with the airborne UAV at all times.

Cumbersome certification process
That process is where officials like Shinnamon say the FAA is off the mark. Generally speaking, manned aircraft operated by military or government agencies can be operated without a pilot's license or an "airworthiness" certificate, which governs whether a vehicle is fit to fly. In Shinnamon's view, it's contrary to public aircraft law for the FAA to require UAVs operated by the same entities to go through a different "cumbersome" certification process.

He also took issue with the flight limitations imposed by the certificates, suggesting law enforcement and public safety agents need to be as nimble as possible when incidents occur.

Other proponents of UAV use have argued that if hobbyists are generally off-limits to FAA control, small UAVs operated under similar circumstances should be treated the same. For instance, after L.A. County officials test-launched a 3-pound SkySeer surveillance drone in a park last summer without prior permission from the FAA, the agency indicated it wasn't allowed.

The occurrence left Commander Heal, who presides over that project, scratching his head. In a telephone interview, he voiced incredulity that, by his interpretation, teenagers could fly model airplanes in the same parks without the FAA's permission but a police-operated drone, which he argued could have "immediate" life-saving applications in his region, had to be certified.

FAA spokeswoman Alison Duquette defended her agency's practices. The decision to require special permission for UAVs reflects what the FAA views as unique risks presented by unmanned vehicles, which the agency believes aren't yet technologically capable of making all the perceptions that a manned craft can.

"Our first role is to do no harm," she said in a telephone interview.

CONTINUED: Privacy implications…
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Use of the technology will "explode", eh? That created an image for
me, of competing agencies' drones running into each other, and
into news choppers too, for that matter.

It does make sense that UAVs with the same technology and
capabilities as hobby RC airplanes should be treated the same. But
they are not allowed to be flown just anywhere, either.
Posted by billmosby (536 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hello Big Brother
We already have the government listening at our phone lines now they want to watch us in the streets. Anybody remember the Bill of Rights?
Posted by bmarshall (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Hello Little Brother
If you are in the U.S., the government CANNOT "listen at our phone lines" without a warrant. That is the law, that was the law before, that will remain the law, unless the Fourth Ammendment is repealed.

Does anybody remember the truth?
Posted by majarosh (25 comments )
Link Flag
You have no rights
We're at war against terrorists, criminals, and other people who defy the will of the capitalists. All rights are suspended until we defeat these people.

Surely this will be done really soon and then we'll all get our rights back.

BTW - Television has some wonderfully distracting programming so you don't have to contemplate reality or organize thinking people to fix the real problems.
Posted by Truth Speaker (15 comments )
Link Flag
Yeah sure why not...
...and while they're at it they can cutback on hiring more police people, and budget for helicopters and police cars and weapons. Same goes for the coast guard. And take all that money saved and have it ready for lawsuits when those drones crash and cause casualties of "friendly fire", and invasion of privacy cases.

The people guiding those drones better pass a physical, and go through hours and hours of training like pilots do.

Those agency's should also clean up the drones that crash into the ocean.

And every recruit of those agencies need to go through some strict security clearance in hope of stopping any conspiracy to crash those missiles - I mean drones - into civilian targets.

Someone should investigate the kickbacks these insane proponents are getting from the corporations making these drones.
Posted by flemingho (23 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Silver Arrow UAV's patrol USA borders.
Silver Arrow's Hermes 450 already proved themselves on Mexico borders. Now it's about time to join the Police forces, too.
Posted by bar86 (26 comments )
Reply Link Flag
NAZI !!!
Move to some other country, will you please?
Posted by Niven1 (7 comments )
Link Flag
"Cents on the dollar"? Drug Test call for Deputy Sid Heal.
Once again, the law enforcement community comes along and says that technology can do the job of a law enforcement officer. They want more toys on the taxpayer's dollars that have no added-value.


"Say there is swimmers caught in a riptide, and county officials want to send help. It would cost anywhere from $450 to $1,200 per hour for L.A."

[http://These guys are already getting paid to do a job that is "seasonal" in nature. You'll still need a pilot and an observer on the ground.|http://These guys are already getting paid to do a job that is "seasonal" in nature. You'll still need a pilot and an observer on the ground.]

(LA) County Sheriff's Office Commander Charles "Sid" Heal to send one of its helicopters, but a UAV would cost "cents on the dollar," he said. "And if it crashes, it goes into the ocean and floats away."

How much does a flight base station cost? How much does training cost? What are the Operations and Maintenance costs? Is there going to be a "magic rubber-raft" or robotic lifeguard "pop-out" of the UAV when the swimmer is located? Why do you think DOD has multi-BILLION dollar budgets and Los Angeles County is barely keeping its Trauma Center System afloat? What's next? How about Zodiac boats or using other resources such as the LA County Lifeguard detail or US Coast Guard? The "floats-away" theory went out the door with the "junk never lands on our beaches" thought process. That why untreated sewage makes its way into the ocean off of Los Angeles after a moderate rainfall.

Sid, get in a car or a helo and leave the UAV's to the military. BTW, I would be really nervous about flying over the Los Angeles Basin, with pilot-less aircraft in the area and I am sure other pilots share the same concern.
Posted by (23 comments )
Reply Link Flag
didn't you ever hear of personal...
inflatable dolls? you just stuff one them into a drone. they're cheap and sold online and have all kinds of opennings to grab onto. You can even dress them up with a lifesaver's uniform.
Posted by wtortorici (102 comments )
Link Flag
Remove Charles "Sid" Heal from public service
Police should be free to fly their UAVs at the park as much as they want. If their UAVs crash at the park, there is little public harm.

The idiot cop Charles "Sid" Heal who justified an unlicensed UAV fleet saying "if it crashes, it goes into the ocean and floats away" should be removed from office and reeducated. Such reckless social irresponsibility should be rewarded with hard prison time .
Posted by Truth Speaker (15 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The_Decider & mikele11111
Looks like we've gotten a little off topic, nes pa? So you know my party affiliation and political leaning? Really? I'll do my best to explain the law recently passed so it's understandable to all.
1. I think we can all agree that it takes two or more entities for there to be communication.
2. This bill addresses surveillance of foreign (outside the U.S.) TARGETS.
3. The ONLY way the surveillance can include someone inside the U.S. is if they are communicating (incoming or outgoing) with a foreign target.
4. If the TARGET is inside the U.S., a warrant is required.
5. Oversight by the Judiciary and Congress is written into the bill.

The next time you and your friends drive to Mexico for the bullfights, on your return trip be sure to tell the custom officials you are an American citizen protected by the Fourth Ammendent and they can't search you, your friends, your car, your luggage, or your body cavaties.
Any questions? Don't ask me, look it up!

<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Posted by majarosh (25 comments )
Reply Link Flag
just one question
Majarosh, did fuhrer bush's kool-aide taste good?

You don't have to answer right now, feel free to wait until a minor
clerical mixup puts you into Gitmo for the rest of your life without
charges, access to lawyers or any human rights whatsoever.
Posted by Dalkorian (3000 comments )
Link Flag
If they're not already listening, how do they know ...
who is calling who from where to where ever? You're pretty sure you president's men would not violate your constitutional rights? Keep smoking those funny cigarettes while reading the bill of rights.
Posted by wtortorici (102 comments )
Link Flag
there's no crime if u don't get caught
cops can gather all the evidence they want and then seek lawful warrants.

you can be followed/tracked. your phone can be tapped,your internet can be infected with spyware and keyloggers,your car locked or not parked on your property can be searched at night for hair samples and other dna. your trash can be searched. property access is why you aren't allowed to pull a gun on tresspassers. ....and yes they can stand outside your windows and peek in between the blinds all w/o ever aquiring any permissions. the patriot act even allows them to go into your home while you're not there.

Don't think they're above going to your place of employment under the guise of official police business and interfering with your job either.

these are scary times and if you're lucky enough to live in Copland as I am, you can learn firsthand what cops can get away with when you cut a cop's wife's rosebush back to far across the fence dividing your homes.

It may not bother those who are so clean they squeak but, with access like this you could build a drug case against the Pope.
Posted by nedmorlef (49 comments )
Link Flag
This is NOT about National Defense or FISA...!
This has NOTHING to do with FISA as you insinuate with your comments about warrants, OR National Defense!! This our LOCAL police authorities talking about using this technology on US as MASS SURVEILLANCE TOOL, A DRAGNET! AMERICAN CITIZENS going about our own business here withing the U.S. for purposes related to their routine duties of crime control, or whatever you want to call it...
Posted by Niven1 (7 comments )
Link Flag
I'm not a sheep to be herded.
Just 2 counties over in my county[NC] they use a paraglider cloaked with an American flag. I've witnessed this thing flying at chimney level over private property.It appears this paraglider can somewhat hover and no warrant is required.

As already demonstrated these drones will be abused. There's recorded abuse for every toy the police get their fascist totalitaian control hands on.

These drones were designed for one use. That is to locate the enemy for the kill. We will be on TV 24/7 so the DEA can stop some cancer patient from some homegrown relief or maybe to make sure you're paying tax on that addition to your home or not illegally burning,no junk cars in your yard, unlicensed pets, a backyard ethanol plant....well ou get the idea. They may even be able to see if you have any Canadian pharmaceuticals in your medicine cabinet while they're enjoying your naked wife.
The police have cadaver,drug,bomb sniffing K-9 coercers,cameras and rotating surveillance vehicles in the streets. They can require identiication and on the spot visible DNA sampling as ruled by the supreme court. Helicopters and infrared vision in the sky. A tap for every form of communication and a plethora of other Constitution circumventing practices and technologies. Last but, not least a Congress and President seemingly willing to change most any law that they cannot abide by...... What else do they need to keep us inline?
Posted by nedmorlef (49 comments )
Reply Link Flag
How about we civilians start watching YOU?
How about we civilians exercise our right to fly MODEL airplanes that just happen to have transmitting cameras on board so that WE can watch YOU while YOU are watching US to MAKE DAMNED SURE THAT YOU ARE NOT ABUSING OUR CONSTITUIONAL RIGHTS AS HAS BEEN DONE SO MANY MORE TIMES IN THE LAST 15 YEARS!!!!!!!!!
Without the MOST STRINGENT "rules of engagement" for these UAV's and THE MOST STRINGENT OVERSIGHT and PUBLIC TRANSPARENCY it will only chase the criminals into other activity and geographical areas, NOT deter them! Much the same way the Brady Bill did not stop the sale of illegal firearms to criminals!!! At the same time what happens is you end up only observing, for the MOST part, legal, lawabiding Citizens, that you have NO Constitutional right to be 'observing' in the first place.
By the way, anyone can get a "model airplane" online for $400.00 that comes with a black &#38; white camera that will transmit to a laptop up to about a half a mile away....
If our Consitutional "...right to be left alone..." is not STRICTLY enforced, you, our "protectors" will be advancing the movement AGAINST more "legal" public surveillance, and hence the tension against it, and it WILL create more problems than than you will EVER solve! Much in the same way that we have created MORE 'insurgents' in the middle east than EVER existed in the first place!
I AM NOT ADVOCATING INSURGENCY! Merely using this as an example of the dynamic between government,law enforcement, and military actions vs. the people they think they are 'protecting'.
Posted by Niven1 (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The police do not want you holding them accountable.

I read recently about a police car that got nabbed by a photo
radar and was trying desperately to get out of it (despite the fact
that there was no evidence the officer needed to travel that fast).

I've seen cops flying by me at 10-15 mph above the speed limit
only to see them chatting on the side of the road with their
buddies further down the road.

The police believe that since they enforce the law, they are
above the law.

Every day I have less and less respect for the police officers.
They are no longer protecting and serving. More and more they
have become hired thugs, bullies, and extortionists for the gov't
- nothing more.
Posted by m.meister (278 comments )
Link Flag
It's for speeding ticket revenue
This is going to be the same as photo radar, just another way to raise revenue via speeding tickets.
Posted by Xenu7-214951314497503184010868 (153 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Yep - it's all about the revenue
You hit the bullseye. This is not about "saving lives" or any such
nonsense. The police are just looking for a new, cheaper, way to
write more tickets.

Due process? Who needs it. There is revenue to be made.
Safety? A great PR argument.
Money? Ahh, money -- love the money, need more money.

Sadly our police force have become nothing more than thugs for
the local city/county council. And exactly where does all that
money go anyway? Because for all the taxes and fines and fees,
our gov't is providing us less today than ever before.

We, the people, are viewed as nothing more than a source of
revenue for councilmen and police. We have become indentured
servants to our "government".

Make money -- pay up;
buy things - pay up;
Go faster than some arbitrary number - pay up;
Want to use the services of your gov't that you've been paying
for -- pay up again.

It sickens me.
Posted by m.meister (278 comments )
Link Flag
I agree with majarosh...
It's not about revenue. You know that Chicago has over 250,000 public surveillance video cameras, New York City over 100,000, Washington DC over 25,000, London England over 500,000...!!! People are already getting tense over 'saftey' surveillance and what do you think will replace the cameras when thugs start destroying them? UAV surveillance planes. When crime waves move around as they do and sationary cameras cant follow them, what do you think will be used?! UAV surveillance planes. It's coming. I said to myself the first time I heard about the things being used in Iraq that US airspace was next and it would be on the border of Mexico, the most logical, least populated, and most remote area to field test them with the least amount of scrutiny, while at the same time running a psychological operation against Americans to ease into their use in more common areas... Mark my words, there will be excuses for replacing stationary cameras with UAV's or for just not using them at all, and the solution to the arguments or 'problems', will be UAV's.
Posted by Niven1 (7 comments )
Link Flag
Bad idea
Anyone remember the movie, "Blue Thunder"? That was about a silent running helicopter, manned, that could be used for surveillence. Of course in that case it caught government people planning on using it for oppressive purposes; but the concept is the same. The chances for abuse by police authorities is too great without citizen authorization, oversight and control.

And nothing should be flying in normal flight airspace.
Posted by Dr_Zinj (727 comments )
Reply Link Flag

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