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Yes, the application of UAS allows law enforcement officers to be safer and more effective in a variety of public safety operations. At the end of 2022 there were 98 law enforcement agencies in Minnesota operating UAS and there were a total of 3076 incidents where a UAS was used.
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What many people refer to as a drone is actually defined by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). Regardless of what it is called, it’s a device capable of controlled flight, and does not have a pilot onboard. These aircraft are very highly regulated by the FAA.
Simply stated, UAS fly using a sophisticated autopilot system that assists the pilot when flying the aircraft manually, or has the ability to fly the aircraft by itself using a pre-loaded flight plan designed by the pilot for that specific mission. The UAS is powered by a battery system and during flight the aircraft sends a constant stream of information to the pilot including altitude, heading, bearing, airspeed, position, battery levels, and a live video feed from the aircraft mounted camera system. If there is a loss of communication or the batteries are getting too low, the aircraft has the ability to automatically return to the point of takeoff or gently land immediately.
Our pilots are licensed police officers that receive highly specialized training. They must successfully pass the FAA’s knowledge exam, specifically the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Title 14, Part 107 (UAS Pilot) certification. In addition to the FAA requirements, our pilots receive training on the operation of our UAS and must familiarize themselves with the Department’s UAS operations policies.
The Blaine Police Department intends to purchase a DJI Matrice M30T UAS. It weighs just over 8 pounds, can fly for approximately 41 minutes on one charge, and can fly at a top speed of 29 miles per hour. It is equipped with a camera and thermal imaging sensor. It also has a spotlight and loudspeaker attachment.
The most frequent uses for the UAS are searching for missing persons and locating criminals attempting to avoid arrest. Aerial views provide a different vantage point and can be enhanced with the use of the FLIR thermal imaging sensor, which allows us to see anything with a heat signature. The UAS is flown in accordance with federal laws, state laws, and the Department’s UAS operational policies.
Minnesota Statute 626.19 restricts the use of a UAS without a search warrant to the following nine circumstances:
The implementation of our UAS program with a DJI Matrice M30T UAS costs $20,042.00. That includes the UAS, the remote controller, spotlight, loudspeaker, and a full set of batteries (this was the lowest price among five vendors we researched). In contrast, manned aviation can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars per hour. A UAS can fly much lower than a traditional manned helicopter and has the added benefit of being much quieter so as to not disturb residents. Many other law enforcement agencies have demonstrated how a UAS is a practical, cost effective alternative to manned aviation.
Historically, law enforcement has had the ability to have an aerial view with manned aircraft for many decades. As a result, case law has been established that guides our use of the aircraft. There is no effort here to somehow use the UAS to circumvent well established 4th Amendment protections. The technology in the UAS is appropriately limited. For example, the equipment does not allow us to see through walls, listen to conversations, monitor cell phones, etc. The unmanned systems are mission and incident driven only. It will not be used for arbitrary surveillance. Images collected with the use of this technology are handled and retained within public safety standards, consisted with images collected with any camera by law enforcement and are subject to professional standards, codes of conduct, case law, and with the public’s trust in mind.
Yes. The Blaine Police Department UAS team can legally fly over your property with the same guidelines that apply to manned aviation. We are bound by federal law and the laws of the State of Minnesota that direct the use of UAS as it relates to the privacy of citizens.
No. Our policy prohibits our UAS from being equipped with weapons of any sort. The attachable accessories we use include a spotlight, loudspeaker, and lighting.
No. The control data that travels through the air is encrypted. In addition, safeguards are in place so that if the technology fails, the aircraft either automatically returns to the original point of take-off for landing, or slowly descends to the ground to land safely.
No. This would violate our flight approvals from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Yes. As long as they follow the appropriate FAA regulations. There are airspace restrictions in our area due to the Anoka County-Blaine Airport (Janes Field).
No, 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 Blaine Police Department. We are bound by federal law and the laws of the State of Minnesota that direct the use of UAS as it relates to the privacy of citizens. Again, our UAS will not be used for arbitrary surveillance and must comply with all federal regulations and laws.