Unmanned drone technology was made famous by its use in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But as an increasing number of drone manufactures continue to offer affordable drone technology to U.S. police departments, law enforcement agencies are expected to begin to adopt the technology for use in policing their respective populations. And now, one of the primary barriers to law enforcement’s full scale adoption of drone technology has been lifted.
Until recently, law enforcement agencies were banned from using unmanned drones in the line of duty by the Federal Aviation Administration. Specifically, the FAA banned the commercial operation of small unmanned aircraft, which meant that not only were police departments restricted from using them, but neither could businesses.
But on March 6, 2014 Judge Patrick Geraghty of the National Safety Transportation Board (NTSB) ruled that the ban is unenforceable. This ruling essentially opened the floodgates to the use of drones for law enforcement purposes.
Under current law, police departments can now implement drone based policing methods using small aircraft which fly at an altitude of no more than 400 feet. But the ruling does not mean that the FAA has had its final say on the matter. To the contrary, in response to the ruling the FAA issued a statement saying that it would have official guidelines in place by the end of 2014 which will further govern how the drones can be used.
Drone based policing methods are already being tested by law enforcement agencies in other countries. For example, police in Tijuana, Mexico are reportedly using drones in the line of duty. The small aircraft, which are powered by lithium polymer batters, can fly for up to 20 hours on a single charge, and are being praised for their stealth and allowing police to monitor the population without having to maintain a physical presence in all parts of the city.