In 2020-2021, HCPD has been field testing drones to use in police operations. The program is the result of a recommendation from a workgroup that researched the technology for five months and proposed purchasing drones for the field test. Upon completion of the field testing, HCPD will decide whether to continue the program. See below to learn more about HCPD's drone usage.
Drones are used by police departments around the country for various public safety missions, including locating missing people, providing aerial views during crisis incidents, searching for suspects avoiding apprehension, taking photos of collision and crime scenes, and assisting in other public safety efforts within a defined perimeter.
The HCPD purchased three drones for use during the field test, for a total of $33,800. A $20,000 contribution from the Howard County Police Foundation covered much of the cost for the equipment.
The HCPD follows public guidelines from the ACLU to ensure the community can benefit from drone technology without privacy concerns.
- Drones MAY NOT be used for mass surveillance that could violate First Amendment-protected activities.
- Drones MAY be used:
- when there is an emergency situation in a defined area in which individuals’ lives and safety are at risk, such as crisis situations, missing persons, fires or other potentially dangerous scenarios; or
- when there are specific and articulable grounds to believe that the drone will collect evidence relating to criminal activity; or
- when there is a signed search warrant issued by a judge for constitutionally-protected activities.
Law enforcement agencies are required to obtain a search warrant when using drones for any constitutionally-protected areas under Fourth Amendment protections from unreasonable search and seizure.
Images are not retained unless there is reasonable suspicion that they contain evidence of criminal activity or are relevant to an ongoing investigation or pending criminal trial. Images that do not possess any evidentiary value will be deleted.
The HCPD will implement drone field testing with transparency and will openly share information about drone usage.
The field test includes 10 officers who will stay in their current assignments and respond to incidents when a drone is needed. They have been trained and are certified remote pilots, as required by the FAA. This is commonly referred to as a “Part 107” certification (Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 107).
The program will operate under Special Order 2019-01, Unmanned Aircraft System Field Test, which clearly defines all required procedures and expectations for personnel and operations. Throughout the one-year field test period the police department will monitor and evaluate the program.