Goal of FAA Partnership with Local Law Enforcement Agencies:

The FAA values its partnerships with law enforcement agencies (LEAs). By working together, the LEAs can help protect the safety of people on airplanes and on the ground from unsafe and unauthorized unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), “drones”.

LEAs are often in the best position to acquire and make initial requests to identify and preserve electronic or video evidence, or obtain legal process for securing this evidence.

UAS Compliance with Airspace Requirements
As an aircraft, UAS operations must comply with all applicable airspace requirements prescribed by the FAA regulations. It is important that UAS operators and LEAs are familiar with the airspace restrictions relevant to their operations and their enforcement area of responsibility.

FAA’s Primary Focus:
While the FAA’s primary focus is on educating the public, they do take civil administrative enforcement action against uas pilots who operate in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger life or property. The FAA recognizes LEAs are often in the best position to deter, detect, immediately investigate, and, as appropriate, pursue enforcement actions in response to unauthorized or unsafe UAS operators.

While the FAA must exercise caution not to mix criminal law enforcement with the FAA’s civil administrative safety enforcement function, the public interest is best served by coordinating and fostering mutual understanding and cooperation between governmental entities with enforcement responsibilities.

The increasing number of cases of unsafe and unauthorized operation of uas is a serious concern for the FAA and many of its interagency partners. To assist LEA;

  1. The legal framework that serves as the basis for FAA legal enforcement action against uas operators for unauthorized and or unsafe uas operations.
  2. Guidance to help Lea deter, detect, and investigate unauthorized and or unsafe uas operations.

Basic Legal Mandates:
The FAA’s safety mandate under 49 U.S.C. 40103 requires it to regulate aircraft operations conducted in the National Airspace System (NAS), which include UAS operations, to protect persons and property on the ground, and to prevent collisions between aircraft or between aircraft and other objects. In addition, 49 U.S.C. 44701(a) requires the agency to promote safe flight of civil aircraft in air commerce by prescribing, among other things, regulations and minimum standards for other practices, methods, and procedures the Administrator finds necessary for safety in air commerce and national security.

An Unmanned Aircraft is Still an Aircraft:
An unmanned aircraft is an “aircraft” as defined in the FAA authorizing statutes, and is therefore subject to regulation by the FAA. The FAA has promulgated regulations that apply to the operation of all aircraft, whether manned or unmanned, irrespective of the altitude at which the aircraft is operating.

Further, state and local governments are enacting their own laws regarding the operation of UAS, which may mean UAS operations may also violate state and local laws specific to UAS operations, as well as broadly applicable laws such as assault, criminal trespass, or injuries to persons or property.

The Role of  Law Enforcement:
The two most critical elements for the FAA to successfully address and unsafe or unauthorized uas operations are 1) Identification of the operator and 2) notification of the event to the FAA. Often the FAA aviation safety inspectors, the agency’s principal field personnel responsible for investigating unauthorized and/or unsafe activities are unable to immediately travel to the location of an incident. 

Although the FAA retains the responsibility for enforcing the FAA’s regulations, LEAs are also currently detering, detecting, investigating, and, as appropriate, pursuing enforcement actions under their existing authorities to stop unauthorized UAS operations. While the FAA must exercise caution not to mix criminal law enforcement with the FAA civil administrative safety enforcement function, the public interest is best served by coordinating and fostering mutual understanding and cooperation between governmental entities with enforcement responsibilities.

Although certainly not an exhaustive list, law enforcement officials, first responders, etc. can provide assistance to the FAA and deter unsafe and unauthorized UAS operations by taking the actions outlined in the acronym D-R-O-N-E. .

Direct attention outward and upward, attempt to locate and identify individuals operating the UAS. Look at windows, balconies, and rooftops. Local law enforcement is in the best position to locate the suspected operator of the aircraft, and any participants or personnel supporting the operations.

Report the incident to the FAA Regional Operations Center. Follow-up assistance can be attained through FAA Law Enforcement Assistance Program special agents. Immediate notification of an incident, accident, or other suspected violation to one in the FAA ROCs, located around the country, is invaluable to the timely initiation of the FAA investigation.

Observe the UAS while maintaining visibility of the device. Look for damaged property or injured individuals. Local law enforcement is in the best position to identify potential witnesses and conduct initial interviews, documenting what they observed while the event is still fresh in their minds. Additionally, capturing the names and contact information of witnesses to provide the FAA will also be extremely helpful.

Notice the features of the UAV. Look to identify the type of device, whether it is fixed wing or multi-rotor, its size, shape, color, what type of video equipment it may have, and the activity of the device. Pictures or video of the UAV’s poor behavior are helpful in determining the time of day and locations plus any damage or injuries that may have occurred.

Execute appropriate action. Follow your policies and procedures for handling an investigation and securing a safe environment for the public and first responders. It must be noted, any investigations conducted by LEAs should be in accordance with local or state authorities, as the FAA’s statutes and regulations do not permit their as a basis for LEAs to conduct investigations

State and local officials are urged to use their governmental units legal resources, and their own management chain, to develop acceptable protocols for dealing with these instances. However, with appropriate data collection during first responses, and early reporting to the FAA, federal, state, and local agencies will be in the best position to collect and share information of interest to each jurisdiction.

If you need help from an UAS attorney then contact the Dunaway Law Group at 480-389-6529 or by email at [email protected]

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