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The Drones Are Here to Stay

This is a game-changer for our criminal justice system. By J.T. McBride I Guest Commentator Lt. Ed Sanow

are fl ying robots controlled from the ground by human “pi- lots” who utilize a variety of technical systems and skills to effectively utilize their devices. Some drones are equipped with cameras and sensors to capture and record data, while more sophisticated models have been weaponized to carry rockets or missiles. Over the last decade, drones have been used to watch for forest fi res and fl oods, monitor weather conditions, observe battlefi elds, patrol borders, and to kill enemy soldiers and operatives. Across the nation, local law enforcement agencies are starting to experiment with drone technology and operations. In many cases, assistance has been readily forthcoming from military and federal sources. Many law enforcement offi cials now see drones as primary tools in the war on crime and continuing effort to protect the homeland from terrorists and organized crime. Agencies with fi xed-wing planes and helicopters have long enjoyed the benefi ts and advantages of owning fl ying vehicle technology; they have also absorbed the enormous costs of these expensive assets. Now, many of the missions normally fl own by piloted aircraft can be fl own more cheaply by UAVs. While UAVs will never completely replace piloted aircraft used for law enforcement, there is no doubt that UAV technol- ogy can reduce the costs of such operations and expand the number of UAVs in use across the country. Agencies unable to purchase piloted aircraft will soon be using drones, and soon the sky will be full of UAVs engaged in a variety of missions for federal, military, state and local law enforcement agencies. Special testing and experimentation areas have been set up in many states where drone technology can be improved to fi ll the growing demand for airborne capabilities. The FAA is conducting a multi-year study to review the numerous reg- ulations that will be needed for a drone-fi lled world. Once those regulations are developed and promulgated, drone operators will have to be trained and re-trained to “fl y” their


n recent months, the national news media has focused a great deal of attention on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, more commonly known as UAVs or “drones.” Drones

vehicles in accordance with the law.

Imagine a near future where UAV drones can monitor ankle bracelets, track parolees, locate fugitives, deliver court documents, search buildings, identify drivers and pedestri- ans, monitor traffi c fl ow, enforce speed and red-light laws, hover over public assemblies to “monitor” activities, patrol city skies seeking radioactive and/or biological footprints, record conversations from high above the speakers below, fi re rockets into barricaded buildings, etc. What more does a police agency really need?

There is no doubt that expanded drone utilization by the police will open a completely new area of litigation for Amer- ican lawyers. Claims of abuse and improper behavior have already been lodged against many of the hundreds of agen- cies already using drone technology. Undoubtedly, more liti- gation will follow as drone utilization expands in the future. Moreover, whatever the “good guys” are using, the “bad guys” are soon to follow.

In a few short years, the evil-doers may be fl ying drones around the U.S. and shooting missiles at us and our citizens. Interceptor drones may have to be dispatched to interdict and destroy the enemy drones. As more nations acquire drones, a drone war will likely loom over us just like the threat of an atomic attack hung over our population during the Cold War. In any case, the drones are here to stay. Whether they de- liver our pizzas or patrol our neighborhoods in lieu of the “real” police, drones are the way of the future. Once the politicians realize that they can replace Car #54 with Drone #54, look out! The face of American law enforcement will be changed dramatically and forever.

Chief J.T. McBride, C.L.E.E., has acquired more than 40 years of Ohio law enforcement experience and is an instructor of criminal justice at Lakeland Community College. He may be reached at

LaO Post your comments on this story by visiting “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” — Henry IV, William Shakespeare 6 LAW and ORDER I July 2015

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