Public Safety

Drones for law enforcement: 6 steps to organize a mission

Elistair Team | 5 Apr 2023 | 12 min

Elistair Team

5 Apr 2023

12 minutes

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Drones for law enforcement have become increasingly valuable tools for public agencies worldwide. Police have been using drones for various operations such as crowd protection, search and rescue, or traffic monitoring due to their ability to provide aerial surveillance and gather evidence.

Nevertheless, before launching a drone mission, drone operators must carefully plan and prepare to ensure the safety of both officers and the public. This article provides key steps to prepare law enforcement for a drone mission.

From selecting the appropriate equipment to understanding legal requirements, we will cover everything you need to know to execute your mission successfully and safely.

1- Determining the mission objective

This is an essential step before launching a drone. The mission objective may vary depending on the operation and is key for the drone team to select the right equipment. There are many types of drones, and most of the time units will use different systems. The more information they have about their mission, the easier it will be for them evaluate the drone’s capabilities and ensure it is the right fit for the mission.

In addition to the mission objective, here are some questions that can be asked to choose the optimal solution:

  • Do I need a night vision camera or thermal images?

  • Will I need a broader view of an area by using a powerful zoom?

  • Will I need my drone to move to exploit hard to reach zones?

  • Will there be weather limitations, what’s the forecast?

  • Will I need to remain airborne for a long duration?

  • What are the crew size requirements that are necessary to execute the drone operation?

Depending on the answers, key specifications must be checked:

  • Range and camera quality.

  • Weather resistance depending on the environment.

  • The size of the drone in case flight will be conducted in tight or challenging areas such as around obstacles or indoors.

  • Automated flight procedure to help the flight operators focus on gathering intelligence from the screen. Enough automation to allow the pilot to observe live data and communicate critical information for instant situational awareness updates.

2- Reviewing area specific flight regulations

Different jurisdictions have different regulations, and all drone missions must comply with applicable laws. In most cases, police operations will have simpler regulations. However, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) are considered aviation assets and require compliance with local rules to operate safely with other aircraft and people on the ground.

In addition, using drones equipped with failsafe features will help mitigate flight risk in an urban environment. Law enforcement drone operations should include safety measures to help pilots carry out their missions safely and in accordance with local law, such as:

  • Geofence

  • Parachute

  • Suites of Failsafes

  • Return to home

3- Planning the flight path

The objective here is to ensure that the drone can successfully accomplish the mission. Here are some factors to consider:

  • What will be the maximum altitude and speed of the flight?

  • Are there any potential obstacles, to include signal interference, in the area that could impede the flight?

To create a safe plan, the operations team will first prepare their mission using the digital aeronautical charts provided by the Federal Aviation Administration. This will ensure the flight operation is being conducted legally and within approved airspace. This will also allow the operators to identify if any airspace waivers are necessary for the flight.

For the tactical consideration, it is essential to take into consideration the following:

  • Where to launch, and any site limitations?

  • How will the drone reach its target?

  • How to maintain a high level of discretion regarding the objective.

  • Where will the pilots be situated during the flight, and is it a safe location?

  • What can be a backup landing zone in a case of an emergency?

Therefore, the flight team can prepare a flight scenario that will achieve all objectives for a successful outcome.

4- Conducting a risk assessment

Performing a risk assessment is crucial before flying a law enforcement drone to ensure that potential hazards are identified, and steps are taken to mitigate them. Depending on the purpose of the flight, there are two levels of risk assessment: aeronautical authority and police unit.

  • For aeronautical authority, it is important to identify any no-fly zones, such as restricted airspace or areas near airports. Additionally, the drone must not pose a danger to people or property on the ground, which can be achieved by adhering to local regulations and ensuring proper training of the operator.

  • As for police units, it is important to assess the risks associated with the mission. A risk table can be used to evaluate factors such as the urgency of the situation, the weather conditions, the location of the mission, and the experience of the pilot. It is important to consider the potential impact of stress, fatigue, and missing information on the pilot’s ability to react and adapt, which may increase the risk of failure.

In both cases, it is important to have a clear understanding of the risks and take steps to mitigate them. This can include implementing safety protocols, having backup plans in place, and ensuring that the drone is properly maintained and equipped with necessary technology. By conducting a thorough risk assessment, the likelihood of accidents and incidents can be significantly reduced.

5- Coordinate with other personnel

IThis coordination involves integrating the drone mission into the larger operation by establishing communication protocols and providing regular updates on the drone’s progress.

In many cases, it is possible to live stream the video feed into the command center, which is the best way to provide critical information to the commanding officers and help them maintain situational awareness. However, if live streaming is not possible, the drone team will need to communicate through radio communication or directly to the commanding officers.

It is crucial to plan for efficient communication between the drone team and the commanding officers before the mission begins. Failure to communicate effectively could prevent the mission from achieving its goals.

6- Identify one or several skilled drone pilots

Flying a drone requires a high level of effectiveness and awareness from the pilots. Once the drone is in the air, it is crucial to monitor its progress and make necessary adjustments to the flight plan. This may involve changing the altitude or speed of the drone, adjusting the camera angle, or making other modifications to ensure that the mission objective is achieved.

Pilots will use all the available resources provided by the drone to help them achieve the mission objective. This includes using automated flying modes, automated camera patterns, and alerts that may come from the drone. The pilots will also rely on the visual information displayed inside the flight software to make informed decisions and adjustments during the flight.

To effectively utilize drones for law enforcement, careful planning and mission execution are critical. This includes identifying the mission objective, conducting a risk assessment, selecting the appropriate equipment, and maintaining communication with all team members. By following these steps, police departments can use drones to assist in various law enforcement tasks, leading to an increased in operational efficiency and overall mission success.

For additional insights on law enforcement drone deployments by police forces, you can check out our webinars and listen to the Arlington Police Department feedback provide the use of tethered drones and how they improve the overall success of their public safety missions.

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