The nation’s largest consortium of police officials is calling for the limited use of unmanned drones in local law enforcement operations and urging that the controversial aircraft — now popular weapons on international battlefields — not be armed.
The first national advisory for the use of unmanned aircraft issued by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) comes as federal lawmakers and civil rights advocates have expressed deep concerns about the vehicles’ use in domestic law enforcement, especially in aerial surveillance.
Only a handful of police agencies, including the Mesa County, Colo., Sheriff’s Department, are currently using unmanned aircraft. But Don Roby, chairman of the IACP’s aviation committee, said an increasing number of departments are considering unmanned aircraft for such things as search and rescue operations, traffic accident scene mapping and some surveillance activities.
In July, federal lawmakers, including Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, the ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, expressed concerns about the potential risk of arming the vehicles as they are being increasingly considered for use.
Some of the vehicles, Thompson said, have the capacity to “shoot (stun-gun) projectiles, tear gas and rubber balls from 300 feet above ground.”
Roby said the guidelines represent an “urgent” attempt to redefine the value of aerial drones away from the battlefields of Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen. “It’s very important that people understand that we won’t be up there with armed predator drones firing away,” said Roby, who also is a Baltimore Police Department captain. “Everytime you hear someone talking about the use of these vehicles, it’s always in the context of a military operation. That’s not what we’re talking about.”