The Office of Justice Programs’ (OJP) National Institute of Justice (NIJ) released a report this week examining issues related to the use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS or drones) for public safety purposes. “Considerations and Recommendations for Implementing an Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Program” concludes that while drones are beneficial in assisting law enforcement in many ways, the technology also brings the concern of police violating privacy rights through aerial surveillance. One recommendation as to how to alleviate some of that concern is to “engage the community early on” and create a community advisory panel on the implementation of drones into the public safety space. A senior law enforcement manager for the NIJ, Mike O’Shea, said, “The transparency of what you’re doing as an agency can make a difference between whether or not the community accepts what you’re doing or doesn’t accept it. And in the case of unmanned aerial vehicles, one of the biggest challenges for law enforcement is getting public acceptance.” However, due to the cost of starting and maintaining a UAS program, only 350 U.S. law enforcement agencies currently have UAS in active use. The report also recommends instituting “sound policies” regarding the collection, use and retention of data. Additionally, the report tells law enforcement agencies they must “fully understand the complex legal environment in which [UAS] operate.”

The report was created by experts from federal and local law enforcement agencies, civil liberties organizations and aviation organizations.