Written By: Prince William County Police Department
Prince William County, VA… The Police Department will soon launch a new program utilizing Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS), commonly known as “drones”. Over the past several years, the use of sUAS has increased amongst law enforcement as an effective tool in many vital areas of public safety, due to their ability to protect the community, as well as police officers.
The Police Department has followed the development of sUAS technology over the years and recognized the benefits of implementing a program in Prince William County. A committee was established to begin researching and studying the use of this technology in public safety operations. The committee explored best practices, policies, and procedures regarding the use of sUAS in law enforcement and identified the right equipment and devices to meet needs. During this process, the committee’s primary focus was to ensure policies and procedures were developed to protect civil liberties and the community’s right to privacy while these systems are in operation.
Nearing the operational deployment phase, the program in Prince William County will consist of a part-time unit of five officers who have completed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Part-107 pilot certification course. These systems will only be deployed by these licensed members who have achieved this certification and other necessary, rigorous training to demonstrate proficiency in the system use. Any new members to the unit will be required to complete the same training and certification prior to any incident deployment.
This advanced, cutting-edge technology is expected to prove to be yet another useful and life-saving tool that the Police Department can deploy in certain situations. The use of this technology will aid officers in locating lost individuals or people in crisis who may need immediate attention and help keep officers at a safe distance from potential threats while also allowing for the ability to obtain critical intelligence on the situation. All sUAS deployments will abide by all legal requirements and guidelines, including FAA regulations, the Code of Virginia, and Department policy.
The Police Department will deploy sUAS on search and rescue missions, locating missing and endangered persons, hostage or barricade situations, complex motor vehicle crash scene reconstruction, and crime scene documentation. The Department will never utilize this equipment on routine patrol, random surveillance, immobilizing vehicles or suspects, or as a weapon or equipped with a weapon.