By: Curtis M. Graham, Esq.
Nowadays it is not uncommon to look up into the sky and see a drone flying overhead. Everyone seems to have one. The rise (pun intended) of unmanned aerial vehicles (“UAVs”) presents interesting questions for law enforcement officials across the country. Some are responding to criminal complaints, as was the case when a University of Kentucky student was charged with second degree wanton endangerment after flying his drone into Commonwealth Stadium prior to a football game last fall. Others are utilizing UAVs to conduct their own search and rescues.
The Somerset Police Department in Kentucky is believed to be the first police department in Kentucky to use an UAV. The Department has received training from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and has created policies and procedures governing the device’s operation. One Department official commented that they are required to notify air traffic controllers at least 30 minutes before any flight and that they cannot fly higher than 400 feet above ground level. Additionally, officials must maintain visual contact with the drone at all times while it is in flight and all pilots must be FAA certified.
But the law is unsettled, and the Kentucky legislature will soon hear House Bill 22 which could prohibit the use of evidence obtained by drones in criminal trials. Additionally, law enforcement agencies using drones would be required to use the drone “in a manner to collect data only on the target and minimize data collection on individuals, homes, or areas other than the target.” The proposed title for the law is the Citizens’ Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act.
Kentucky is not the only state confronting these issues. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 45 states considered at least 156 bills relating to drones in 2015. Needless to say the law in this area is rapidly changing, and it is important for law enforcement officials to stay current on the state of the laws governing drone use.
For questions or more information on “Drones and Law Enforcement – The Future is Now,” contact:
Curtis M. Graham – MRR Lexington