Arlington PD Answers All Your Questions About Its "Aviation Unit," Which Consists Entirely of Two Drones

arlington pd with drone.jpg
Image via.
Arlington PD and drone.
The Arlington Police Department recently got permission from the FAA to use the two small, battery-operated drones they purchased last year using grant money from Homeland Security. Presumably, the drones will mostly be used to hover over Jerry Jones while he's at work, clipping him in the head with a wing every time he tries to make any football decisions whatsoever.

As Patrick Walker of the Star-Telegram tweeted a little while ago, Arlington PD now has a nifty new webpage to answer all your questions about how the teeny tiny drones might be used. Only, don't call them drones, please. They've now been christened the department's "Aviation Unit," and they definitely won't impact your privacy, pinky-swear.

So, what's the plan for this adorable, battery-operated Aviation Unit? The drones will be used for "a variety of public safety applications," the site says, "such as helping us find missing persons, clear major traffic crashes more quickly, aid in assessing damages and losses from natural disasters like floods and tornadoes, and take forensic photographs of complex crime scenes. Our helicopters will NOT be used in car pursuits, issue traffic citations, carry weapons or be used for routine patrols and surveillance."

The FAQ also says that the drones can only be flown in daylight hours, "less than 400 feet above the ground," and within the line of sight of the officer flying the thing. Also, it adds, "The police department is not allowed to fly directly over crowds such as football games or parades," or north of Interstate 30, near DFW Airport.

Moreover, Arlington PD says, "your privacy will not be impacted. Maintaining an individual's privacy and protecting the civil liberties of all persons is of paramount importance to the department. The Arlington Police Department is bound by federal law and the laws of the State of Texas that direct the use of helicopters of all types and sizes, as it relates to the privacy of citizens." If a search warrant would be required to look in a backyard, say, it'll be required to use the drone, they add. "Again, our helicopter will not be used for arbitrary surveillance and must comply with all federal regulations and laws."

The thing about that, though, is there's not a lot of state or federal regulation around drone use just yet, something that's alarmed civil liberties groups like the ACLU and Electronic Frontier Foundation, which released the list of FAA-approved, drone-using entities that included Arlington.

As the ACLU just wrote about yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee had a hearing on drones this week , in which Democrats, Republicans and unhinged Communist-hunters alike voiced serious privacy concerns about domestic use.

The ACLU wants better legislation to regulate drone use in U.S. airspace; one of the bills they're backing is from Texas Republican Congressman Ted Poe, the "Preserving American Privacy Act".

Unless it's Jerry Jones' privacy, obviously. Keep an eye on him.


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6 comments
garlandsucks
garlandsucks

1984 is looking less like fiction everyday

JustSaying
JustSaying

The take away here is simple. If you smoke weed outside in Arlington, wear a goddamn sombrero.

roo_ster
roo_ster

OK, gawked at the APD website and it looks like the sensor package is a high-end HD digital video camera.  Probably with near-IR & low-light capability (think: image intensification), maybe ~20x optical zoom, but no mid & long wave IR (what most think of as IR sensors).  Your attic wacky tobaccy grow operations are safe from this bugger.

Also looks like APD has to give the FAA a heads-up every time they use it.  This will be nice for civil liberty-minded folk to keep a tab on them, even if after the fact.  FOIA FTW.

Despite the high cost of these buggers ($100k, IIRC), these are a much cheaper airborne search solution than manned planes or helis.

roo_ster
roo_ster

At the risk of losing my Tinfoil Hat Club card, I would say that it sounds like Arlington PD is Doing It Right.

>The FAQ also says that the drones can only be flown in daylight hours, "less than 400 feet above the ground," and within the line of sight of the officer flying the thing. Also, it adds, "The police department is not allowed to fly directly over crowds such as football games or parades," or north of I-30, near DFW Airport.<

That is straight from the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) (http://www.modelaircraft.org/) guidelines for First Person Viewer* (FPV) operation of model aircraft and in accordance with FAA guidelines for the the operation of model aircraft.  This is a good thing.  Big Worry #1 on my part was that APD was going to fly these over crowds of people.  One malfunction of such a (relatively) large RC helo over people and someone could get killed.  

I do bet they will find a way to operate it at night, though.  That can be done safely, with the right equipment.

>Moreover, Arlington PD says, "your privacy will not be impacted. Maintaining an individual's privacy and protecting the civil liberties of all persons is of paramount importance to the department. The Arlington Police Department is bound by federal law and the laws of the State of Texas that direct the use of helicopters of all types and sizes, as it relates to the privacy of citizens." If a search warrant would be required to look in a backyard, say, it'll be required to use the drone, they add. "Again, our helicopter will not be used for arbitrary surveillance and must comply with all federal regulations and laws."<

That is about as good as it is going to get WRT drones vs citizens' privacy.  Not great, but at least they say they will comply with existing regs and not try to get around them by way of altitude, like some LEOs tried to get around them with FLIR (IR/heat cameras).  Big Worry #2 was use of these critters in residential areas to snoop out back yards, fly down alleys, etc.  Looks like that might be limited.

=====

FTR, APD may call this a drone and it may fit the definition of drone, but it is just a relatively large, well-built hobby grade radio control helicopter with a high-quality FPV package. Somebody at APD has some decent RC aircraft experience and has shaped their policy to be in accordance with generally safe operating practices.

I would be interested in a link to the specs of the one APD bought, especially its sensor package. 


* FPV = you can pilot the aircraft via a video/radio link, not just from a third-person perspective like most RC aircraft.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@roo_ster 

" At the risk of losing my Tinfoil Hat Club card, I would say that it sounds like Arlington PD is Doing It Right."

Would they have done this if the City of Arlington had to pony up the money for this?

We are trillions of dollars in debt,  federal grant money does not grow on the money tree.  It comes from us the US taxpayer.


WE CANNOT AFFORD STUFF LIKE THIS!!!!!!

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