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Laying Down The UAS Law

By Patrick C. Miller | March 04, 2015

When I was a young newspaper reporter, covering the police beat was considered a rite of passage before moving on to bigger and better assignments. But for me, reporting on the city police, the county sheriff’s department and the criminal court system wasn’t a job I did because I had to; it was a job I truly enjoyed.

I believed the police beat was every bit as important as covering city hall or state government or any of the other beats reporters considered more prestigious and more desirable. The reason I held on to the assignment far longer than most reporters was because interacting with people who worked in the criminal justice system was always interesting. When it came to covering “the cops,” there was never a lack of news, issues and controversy.

With few exceptions, I found those employed in the law enforcement field were concerned about improving how they did their jobs. They constantly trained, studied the ever-changing law to better understand it and stayed on top of the latest technological developments that enabled them to keep the public (and themselves) safe while capturing criminals.

Perhaps that’s why when our team at The UAS Magazine was discussing about topics for webinars, the growing use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) in law enforcement was a natural. Of the 79 certificates of authorization issued to date by the Federal Aviation Administration, 25 have gone to law enforcement agencies. From patrolling the nation’s borders to capturing images of an accident scene, it’s clear that UAS technology is on the path to becoming a valuable law enforcement tool.

For our webinar March 5 “Aerial Assets: UAS In Law Enforcement,” we were fortunate to assemble a top-notch panel to provide their professional insights and perspective on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles on the local, state and federal levels. Alan Frazier and Anthony Galante are not only experienced law enforcement officers, but also teach at two of the world’s most prestigious aviation universities—Frazier at the University of North Dakota School of Aerospace Sciences and Galante at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

James Mackler, a Nashville attorney with the Bone McAllester Norton law firm, is a defense attorney who specializes in UAS law. He’s also a former U.S. Army Blackhawk pilot and serves as a legal advisor to a Tennessee National Guard UAS unit. Dean Attridge, a former military UAV operator, is co-owner of Sentinel Air in New Mexico. His firm works with law enforcement and provides a unique case study of how using a hybrid aircraft allows the testing of sensors, data links and control systems to be deployed in future UAS platforms.

Mackler provided an overview of the growing number of state and federal laws governing law enforcement’s use of UAS. Frazier discussed the operational use of UAS by the Grand Forks (North Dakota) Sheriff’s Department under one of the early COAs issued by the FAA. Attridge covered his company’s experience in testing UAS technology onboard a manned aircraft that will later be converted to a UAV while Galante talked about the need for law enforcement training in a world in which UAS technology is playing an increasingly important role.

There are many fascinating topics and sub-topics in the UAS world, but law enforcement’s use of UAVs is guaranteed to generate interest and discussion for a long time to come. If you didn't sign up for Thursday’s free webinar, you can still to do it here and watch after the recorded webinar is posted.