Law enforcement personnel in California arrested a man this week that they allege was operating a small, unmanned aerial system (sUAS), or drone, with a bag of heroin attached, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Unfortunately, this news is not surprising. Police forces increasingly find themselves dealing with rogue drones. Drones are becoming cheaper and thus more accessible to the public, sleeker, faster, harder to detect and more durable. Many can fly long distances and carry heavy payloads, and are easy to operate, which poses safety and security risks to nearly every type of environment.
Terrible outcomes can even result from accidents, such as a drone colliding with a power line, or a moving vehicle.
Law enforcement personnel want to ensure they are ready. Security Magazine reports that Transportation Security Administration (TSA) personnel and police departments from Connecticut and New York recently assessed their ability to detect and mitigate unauthorized drones from interfering with commercial aviation.
The teams practiced different scenarios and tested the Connecticut State Police’s counter-drone technology. Such tests are critical, because police departments face unique challenges from rogue drones.
sUASs can disrupt large outdoor events protected by law enforcement – but that is far from the only danger they pose. Drones can also be used to hinder police movements during attempted arrests, surveil law enforcement formations and personnel, transport drugs and contraband (as we saw in California this week), and even target law enforcement officials.
Two factors further complicate law enforcement agencies’ ability to cope with the rogue drone threat.
Law enforcement personnel are increasingly relying upon drones to surveil unfolding events, such as active shooting situations, and to capture pictures and videos of potential crimes. But most counter-small, unmanned aerial systems (C-sUAS) do not enable system operators to classify drones as “authorized” or “unauthorized.” This means police operators wishing to detect and mitigate rogue drones would have to shut down their own authorized drones, even if their usage was critical to a developing situation.
Also, many police departments wish to integrate their law enforcement systems with a counter-drone system, but most C-sUAS cannot meet this requirement. By integrating open counter-drone technology with top law enforcement and military command & control (C2) systems, police units can seamlessly integrate the C-sUAS into their work processes and expand operational awareness beyond the tactical team operating EnforceAir.
Law enforcement agencies can overcome these challenges by using radio frequency-based, cyber-takeover counter-drone technology to detect rogue drones, identify them and then automatically take over the drones to land them in a safe, designated area. Such a system should be able to classy drones as “authorized” or “unauthorized” and enable permitted law enforcement or first responder drones to remain fully operational and unaffected.
Open cyber technology can also enable agencies to integrate the anti-drone technology with their preferred law enforcement platform.
Rogue drone incidents such as the one in California last week show no signs of abating, unfortunately, so expect to see police departments continue to test their readiness and investigate optimal counter-drone solutions.