Report: Local Law Enforcement Should Have Authority to Mitigate Rogue Drones

Amid an increase in drone activity near airports across the United States, a task force made up of aviation and security experts is urging lawmakers to address safety concerns by boosting funding and extending authority over drones to state and local law enforcement agencies.

Reports of potentially hazardous or unlawful drone activity, many of which occurred near airports or aircraft, increased dramatically over the past two years, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Last year, there were about 2,300 documented sightings in the United States, nearly 200 more than the year prior, according to the agency.

“Local law enforcement lacks the authority and resources to mitigate drones in real-time, effectively ensuring any response will fall short and require federal action that will unlikely be timely enough to actually mitigate the threat,” former FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said.

According to a report from the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Mitigation at Airports:

Despite the clear proliferation of advanced technology and the increased risk that errant UAS present to airports and their surrounding communities, a regulatory and funding framework that empowers local authority to respond to threats by UAS is lacking. This creates a potential security gap and leaves the aviation community in the difficult position of balancing potential a security threat with the reality of limited funds and authority to effectively respond to that threat.

According to Route Fifty:

The report acknowledges that while the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department have demonstrated the ability to counter drones during large-scale events, they do not have the resources or manpower to do so continuously at airports across the country. Because of this, federal authorities expect that local police agencies will initially respond to any drone reports at airports, Huerta said.

Therefore, local law enforcement are required to respond to drone reports even though they don’t have the capabilities to interdict the unmanned aircraft. Only once local authorities’ resources are “exhausted” will federal authorities deploy, [former leader of the FAA Michael] Huerta said.

The report recommends establishing a pilot project, involving at least six airports, that would allow for establishing protocols to respond to reports of drones, as well as providing training and practice exercises for local law enforcement to engage with the devices.

In Maryland, local governments are preempted from regulating drones. Earlier this year, a report from a statewide workgroup on drone use in Maryland described the challenges drones create for local law enforcement and the need for clarification of rules and authorities.

Useful Links

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Time to Engage! Dogfight Between Drones and the Law

Blue Ribbon Task Force on UAS Mitigation at Airports – Final Report (October 2019)

Route Fifty: Local Law Enforcement Should Be Able to Protect Airports From Drones, Report Says