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Law Enforcement Guidance Concerning Suspected Unauthorized UAS Operations: White Paper

NCJ Number
Date Published
July 2016
9 pages

This White Paper by the Justice Technology Information Center provides guidance to law enforcement agencies on how to assess the operations of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), more commonly known as drones, within their jurisdictions; and it suggests actions to interdict and mitigate unauthorized, illegal, or risky operations.


The typical consumer UAS is operated by a hand-held digital radio control box, but technology is advancing, so that many of these technologies can be operated with a simple cell phone. Most UAS systems have a range up to a few miles. Some of the risks of UAS systems are physical injury from crashes, the transporting of illegal substances, clandestine photography that violates privacy, the photographing of sensitive structures, the monitoring of law enforcement officers' movements, and the delivery of harmful agents. Effective August 2016, the FAA has promulgated new 14 CFR Part 107 regulations specific to civil commercial operations of small UAS weighing less than 55 pounds. The FAA regulations permit small UAS to operate during daylight in confined operating areas within visual line of sight of a "remote" pilot/observer. An overview is provided of possible State laws that may assist law enforcement in addressing unauthorized or unlawful UAS operations. Some existing laws that may apply are disorderly conduct laws, "peeping Tom" laws, nuisance/noise laws, and identity theft and invasion of privacy. Reckless endangerment and criminal trespass may also apply in some circumstances. Issues in the investigation of such cases are also discussed.

Date Published: July 1, 2016