How Public Safety Agencies Should Go About Bringing UAS On Board

When Xenon Dragan, president and founder of Draganfly Innovations, took the stage at the recent Commercial UAV Expo in Las Vegas, he noted that the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) by police is not new; rather, he said, “progress has simply made it practical.”

Draganfly, which is based out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, has years of experience providing UAS for first responders. On May 9, 2013, Dragan said, the company’s Draganflyer X4-ES drone was credited as the first small UAS conducted by public safety officials to save a human life: The Royal Canadian Mounted Police called in the drone to locate the victim of a car accident in Saskatchewan after a helicopter was unable to do so. (The UAS has since joined the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.)

Public safety agencies are increasingly adopting the technology across both Canada and the U.S. nowadays, but Dragan – who noted that aerial drone photography can provide “missing clues” that ground-based photography often can’t – offered insight on the best way for them to go about it.

One of the most important things to do? Gain public support, Dragan said.

They must show the public “how useful these devices are,” he explained.

Before they decide to implement a drone program, he said, they should communicate with officials, such as the mayor and city or town council, to make sure they’re in favor of the technology.

In Saskatoon, he said, there are so many drones being used by police offers these days that “nobody is alarmed.”

However, he added, it may be a different story in the U.S., considering deployment is not as widespread, and there still exists a spy-in-the-sky mentality for many.

“The worst thing that can happen? Keep people shut out, and they’re going to rebel against you,” he warned.

Having a successful drone program goes beyond proper communication and garnered support, though: What’s going to set agencies apart from the rest, said Dragan, is also training and experience in flying the machines.

If you’re not using the technology properly, he explained, “you’re not going to have a lot of success stories.”

“Your program is going to go backwards,” he added.

In addition, he noted that not all police officers are pros in federal and local regulations for operating drones. The “last thing you want,” he said, is a police officer who has a hobbyist drone and uses it to do a “quick job” for a public safety mission – in turn, upping the possibility of an operational error or broken law due to inexperience.

Yesterday, the Police Foundation, which describes itself as a “national, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing policing through innovation and science,” issued a set of recommendations for law enforcement agencies to consider if they’re thinking about bringing in drones.

The foundation says the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, U.S. Department of Justice also helped develop the guide. (The resource, “Community Policing & Unmanned Aircraft Systems: Guidelines to Enhance Community Trust,” can be downloaded here.)

“UAS technologies provide law enforcement agencies with unique capabilities for rapid, safe, economical and effective responses to a wide variety of public safety tactical challenges,” says Jim Bueermann, president of the Police Foundation and former chief of police in Redlands, Calif., in a press release.

“Harnessing these capabilities requires not only the skills to operate the technology but the input and understanding of the community and a pledge to operate the technology in a transparent manner. This is what community policing is all about,” he adds.

To close out his presentation, Dragan emphasized that drones will continue to make their mark in public safety and beyond:

“This technology is not going away at all. It’s here to stay; so just make the best of it.”

Photo: The Draganflyer X4-ES


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