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Term of the Month

Defining Criminal Justice Research

Welcome to NIJ’s Term of the Month. Each month we are featuring a term from our scientific research portfolios informing significant American justice system issues and solutions. 

May 2022 - Unmanned Aircraft Systems

Unmanned aircraft systems is a term that encompasses not only the unmanned aircraft vehicle but also the flight controller on the ground, and the system of communication between the two. Under FAA Part 107, unmanned aircraft vehicles are air vehicles weighing between a half and 55 pounds that operate by remote pilot and are often fitted with specialized cameras, GPS, and/or other sensors that collect and often relay information via a communications link to a variety of destinations, including the remote pilot and/or a command center. In law enforcement, unmanned aircraft systems are used in a variety of ways, including crowd control, traffic and accident reporting, search and rescue, crime scene reconstruction, pre-operational situational awareness to optimize officer and individual safety (e.g. by gathering information for bomb threats and hostage situations), and even as first responders. 

Unmanned aircraft systems are subject to the rules set forth by the Federal Aviation Administration to maintain safe national airspace, specifically Unmanned Aircraft Rules (Part 107). Since unmanned aircraft systems also are operated from a remote command and control center and relay information, equipment must be certified by the Federal Communications Commission to minimize harmful radio interference. Most unmanned aircraft system pilots are required to maintain visual-line-of-sight (VLOS) with their aircrafts, with the exception of those who have beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) certification. 

Select Resources: 

Detecting and Processing Clandestine Human Remains with Unmanned Aerial Systems and Multispectral Remote Sensing (Grant) 

Unmanned Aircraft Systems Can Support Law Enforcement in Crash Scene Reconstruction (Article) 

Evaluation of Terrestrial and Aerial Remote Sensing with Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (SUAS) for Forensic Crime-Scene Reconstruction (Grant) 

Evaluating Aerial Systems for Crime-Scene Reconstruction (Article)

A Comparison of Small Unmanned Aircraft System (SUAS) Aerial and Terrestrial Methods for Accident Scene Investigation Information Collection (Grant) 

How Law Enforcement Can Harness the Benefits of an Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Program (Article) 

Date Created: January 28, 2021