Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced the formation of an Advisory Group on Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) last Thursday.
The creation of the drone advisory group, which is charged with creating a policy model for law enforcement officers using UAS, follows a recent police-downing of a drone amid protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The 10-member group is headed by Cuyahoga Community College Police Chief Clayton Harris, and it will focus on providing a template for law enforcement across the state to follow regarding drone usage and protocols. The advisory group will also contribute to the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy’s curriculum.
UAS has the potential to benefit law enforcement officials by aiding investigations, as well as in day-to-day police operations, which would save significant time and money.
Michael Braasch, a Ohio University professor who holds a doctorate in electrical engineering and the former director of Ohio University’s Avionics Engineering Center, elaborated on how police officers may use drones in the field.
“Drones essentially offer an observation point from the sky that may be difficult or expensive to achieve otherwise, your only other option being a helicopter, which is large, noisy, and expensive,” Braasch said. “It’s been demonstrated that there are certain situations where drones are more cost effective, but also provide better info for law enforcement, because they can be utilized more quickly.”
The aerial photography and maneuverability drones offer greatly enhances law enforcement’s’ ability to conduct search and rescue operations, and can contribute to efforts in policing large crowds of people during holidays or events.
“Drones can be better than a helicopter because they can be kept in the trunk of a squad car for mobility and ease of use, enabling an officer to get an aerial view of what happened immediately after arriving on scene,” Braasch said.
While UAS offer significant benefits, critics remain concerned over potential privacy violations and misuse, charging the increased prevalence of drones has serious consequences.
“A drone may allow you to shoot a camera from an angle or perspective unavailable in the past,” Braasch said. “Can these things be used inappropriately? It’s possible, but in the long term, it seems to me as an engineer less likely due to the low battery life of most consumer drones. Secondly, these things are ridiculously noisy, and nobody is going to be using a drone without everybody in the neighborhood knowing about it.”
A persistent problem in the field of UAS continues to be their inability to operate at long distances from their controllers, something which will need to be improved if law enforcement is to use them effectively. Flying a drone far enough away that an operator on the ground can no longer see it is currently banned for safety reasons by the Federal Aviation Administration.
“For the most part, these operations have not been permitted because the technology hasn’t been fully developed yet to permit the drone to detect and avoid obstacles on its own,” Braasch said. “If Amazon wants to be able to put some books on a drone and deliver it 10 miles away, that drone has to have the capability to detect and avoid obstacles, such as birds, trees or other drones.”
Braach said this technology is still under development — as a matter of fact, at OU we’re doing research on that area.”
Until such a time when further regulations and advancements are made, Ohio drone enthusiasts can stay updated on the legal use of their devices here.