The world has watched as horrific terrorist events have unfolded in Paris. The attacks began with the January 7 attack at Charlie Hebdo magazine that killed 12 people, including two police officers. The next day, a French policewoman was killed. French anti-terrorism forces stormed a supermarket where another terrorist, tied to the same organization, held hostages. These events and the 17 deaths associated with them, forced law enforcement to take compromised positions against a formidable threat, which could have been reduced with the use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS).
The Law Enforcement Response in Paris
Scores of French law enforcement and anti-terrorist forces took and held tactical positions on both locations, some for several hours. Unfortunately, those positions may have been categorized as concealment instead of cover as it was believed the terrorists in the warehouse were in possession of a rocket launcher. Law enforcement placed themselves in compromised rather than cover positions in hopes of ending this terror campaign against French law enforcement and the French people.
Had similar events occurred in the U.S., our law enforcement officers would have responded in a similar fashion with similar tactics, similar tools, and exposed themselves to similar dangers.
But what if those dangers could be minimized? What if tools were made available to law enforcement that would enable officers to maintain a similar tactical presence while reducing the physical threat to those officers? What if you learned U.S. law enforcement had similar tools available but were unable to use them?
As seen with the Paris incidents, a major benefit of implementing UAS would be the reduction of the potential loss of law enforcement lives. An airborne system could safely provide instantaneous intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance information previously obtained by law enforcement forces in compromised positions.
Instead of having a tactical team positioned within the danger zone of a subject and his/her weapon system, UAS can be launched immediately during a critical situation from a position of safety and true cover. Based on the technologies onboard the UAS, it could obtain detailed intelligence presently beyond the abilities of typical law enforcement officers on the ground such as:
- infrared systems
- chemical/biological/radiological/nuclear (CBRN) detectors
- high-resolution cameras
Law enforcement aided by UAS can improve overall situational awareness during these high-risk situations. The UAS would provide command staff and officers with instantaneous actionable intelligence so resources are properly deployed in the safest manner possible. Having real-time video of an incident will show the responding officers where the threats are, and will enable them to safely take positions of cover and any necessary avenues of approach.
Current FAA Restrictions on UAS
If an incident similar to what happened in Paris occurred in the U.S., law enforcement would be restricted from utilizing UAS by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Currently, to fly any UAS system you need permission from the FAA, which can be granted after the public-safety agency applies for a Certificate of Authorization (COA). This COA will ensure that the UAS is integrated safely into the National Airspace System so manned and unmanned aircraft operate without incident.
The current COA process is plagued with unclear directions and guidance. Currently, the FAA requires pilots of UAS to hold a valid private pilots license to fly any UAS within the National Airspace System even though UAS can only be flown within line of sight.
These restrictions have a potential cost to law enforcement and civilian lives. Restrictions on UAS must be removed by the FAA.
The Need for UAS in Police Agencies
Scores of police chiefs and sheriffs from around the country have acquired, or would like to acquire, UAS for their departments.
“If we are serious about crime-reduction strategies, we must look to new technologies, which help keep officers and the public safe and apprehend criminals,” St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson wrote to the Federal Aviation Administration last year.
Regardless of the mission, integrating UAS into law enforcement will ultimately reduce risk. UAS provide better access and greater situational awareness by providing real-time intelligence. While many unknowns remain as the FAA continues its efforts to set forth regulations and standards, one thing is certain—UAS has the potential to save the lives of all those sworn to protect others.
About the Authors
Anthony Galante is a former SWAT officer and current police officer who holds a Masters of Aeronautical Science degree from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. Galante also earned graduate degrees from American Military University (AMU) in both Criminal Justice and Homeland Security. He is the lead instructor at the Unmanned Safety Institute, which provides training and consulting in regards to the usage and integration of UAS for public safety and commercial operations.
Dr. Chuck Russo is the Program Director of Criminal Justice at American Military University (AMU). He began his career in law enforcement in 1987 in central Florida and was involved all areas of patrol, training, special operations and investigations before retiring from law enforcement in 2013. Dr. Russo continues to design and instruct courses, as well as act as a consultant for education, government and industry throughout the United States and the Middle East. His recent research and presentations focus on emerging technology and law enforcement applications, in addition to post-traumatic stress and online learning.