There is a misconception that unmanned aerialcvehicles (UAVs) deployed by U.S. law enforcement agencies will be used generally to spy on average citizens, a Department of Justice official told Government Video.
“The misconception is that UAVs are going to bemused for spying, and that your local sheriff is now part of a Stalinist-like secret police that is trying to gather as much data about you as possible,” said Tim Adelman, an aviation technology program legal consultant with the DoJ’s National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center. That belief is “just not reality,” he said.
Law enforcement agencies are already “tapped to the max” and they do not have the manpower to fly those aircraft around for the sole purpose of spying on people, Adelman said. “The other reality of this is there are existing laws, the Fourth Amendment,” he said. “All the cases that interpret the Fourth Amendment really set boundaries when law enforcement can use UAVs with or without a warrant,” he said. “There hasn’t been a pandemic of spying that people keep talking about because the law doesn’t permit it.”
Rather, agencies that have UAVs are using them for very focused missions, such as to conduct searches of specific areas, Adelman said. Typically such a search requires 30 to 40 officers to line up in a grid and move through an area. That could take hours, if not days, as well as money and resources, whereas a UAV can fly a grid pattern over an area and record video that can be reviewed later. That might enable from three to four people to search an area that might take up to 40 people, he said.
Should it be needed, UAVs also can be used to shoot video of critical infrastructure of a building or facility supplying law enforcement officials with the latest data on a structure’s hazards, Adelman said.
UAVs can also be used to record aerial video of the scene of an accident, he said. Currently, to record such video, a helicopter has to be engaged, and that requires calling in a pilot, flying to the scene and recording the video. The whole process can take an hour or more, and when it is done, the cost could reach $2,000. The advantage of a small UAV is it can be transported to the incident site and be immediately launched and fly 30 feet over the accident and be back on the ground within 10 minutes, enabling investigators to clear the accident scene, he said.
To perform those missions, law enforcement needs small UAV systems that can be transported to “critical incident sites” in the trunk of a patrol car or by small truck, and be launched at the site so that “situational awareness” can be collected quickly, Adelman said. Three such UAVs currently available to law enforcement are:
Droidworx’s CX Droidworx, located in Raglan, New Zealand, produces small UAV airframes for aerial, multi-rotor solutions, said Linda Bulk, the company’s director. Droidworx manufactures airframes, not ready-to-fly systems, she stressed. Droidworx clients acquire the airframe they need, and then order the motors, propellers and cameras that also meet their needs, she said. The airframe that law enforcement might be interested in is the “CX,” which was designed for use by police, she said.
What makes the CX really useful for law enforcement is that it can carry a thermal imaging camera, Bulk said. In addition, the CX can be outfitted with cameras that can provide users with a video downlink system enabling the user to see the footage that the camera sees in real time. “That’s important for law enforcement,” she said.
In addition, propeller protectors are available that enable the aircraft to be flown into a building and remain airborne even if it bumps into walls because the propellers will not be touched, she said.
Quadrocopter’s Quad HD Quadrocopter, located in Columbia Falls, Mont., offers its Quad HD, a UAV designed for police and fire departments, said Flori Seeger, the company’s CEO. The unit can carry a payload of up to two pounds, provides a full HD video downlink that will stream live video with a range of up to 10 miles and has a flight time of about 45 minutes, he said.
The Quad HD has four motors and comprises up-to-date carbon fiber components. It has a flight controller that provides “extreme flight stability,” Seeger said. Law enforcement would be interested in the unit because it can be outfitted with different camera types, he said. But it is the Quad HD’s video stream capabilities that police and fire departments are interested in because those agencies “want to be able to see what’s going on” at an incident, he said.
Schiebel Corp., located in Neustadt, Austria, offers its Camcopter S100, which was developed for military and police organizations, said Peter Haueis, Schiebel’s head of Camcopter air services. The unit is operational
for six hours, can reach heights of 18,000 feet and can carry a payload of 110 pounds, he said.
Schiebel Corp.’s Camcopter S100 The Camcopter S100 was designed to perform in all terrains and environments and its design has a tough framework comprising advanced composite materials of carbon fiber with titanium and aluminum, Haueis said. The aircraft provides high-end performance coupled with structural strength and a high level of environmental resistance, particularly in maritime environments, he said.
To transmit video, the unit is equipped with an uplink and downlink, receiving and transmitter system with a range of 124 miles that was developed by Broadcast Microwave Services, according to Schiebel. In addition, BMS is working on incorporating HD video into its transmission products for UAVs, because the cameras on those aircraft are migrating to HD, therefore the transmitters will have to be able to send that video, the company said.
The Camcopter S100 has applications for law enforcement and border control, Haueis said. “Those agencies don’t need a full-size helicopter when a small aircraft can do the same work at a low percentage of the cost and which do not put anyone at risk,” he added.