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Law Enforcement Encounters With Suspicious UAS Operations

NCJ Number
Date Published
November 2017
5 pages
This article explains what law enforcement agencies should know about legal parameters for the operation of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), also called drones, in order to identify and address suspected illegal UAS operations.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for enforcing its regulations for UAS operations; however, the agency notes that state and local law enforcement officers are often the first to suspect unauthorized or unsafe UAS operations and conduct immediate intervention. The challenge for law enforcement agencies is how to distinguish between lawful, authorized use of UAS and the authority they have to intervene when they suspect unauthorized or dangerous UAS operation. As of July 2017, 40 states had enacted laws that address UAS issues, and 3 states have adopted resolutions. Common issues in such state legislation include defining what constitutes an UAS, how they can be used by law enforcement or other state agencies, how they can be used by the general public, and regulations for their use in game hunting. States and local jurisdictions considering adopting UAS laws should consult with the FAA about the intersection of federal, state, and local regulation of aviation generally and UAS operations specifically. Local law enforcement agencies cannot enforce FAA regulations; however, law enforcement personnel can possibly use a number of existing state and local laws to address suspected illegal or improper UAS operations, depending on the situation; e.g., reckless endangerment, criminal mischief, and nuisance/noise laws might apply. FAA UAS regulations and how local and state law enforcement agencies can assist the FAA in enforcing its regulations are outlined.
Date Published: November 1, 2017