Public safety resources

Public Safety Agencies, such as Law Enforcement, are in the best position to deter, detect, and investigate unauthorized or unsafe UAS operations. While drones can serve as a useful tool, these agencies also have an important role in protecting the public from unsafe and unauthorized drone operations. This information will help law enforcement understand safe drone operations and their authority. 

Operate a Drone, Start a Drone Program
Government agencies (including Federal, State, and tribal), law enforcement, and public safety entities have two options for operating drones under 55 pounds.
  • Fly under 14 CFR part 107, the small UAS rule. Part 107 allows operations of drones or unmanned aircraft system (UAS) under 55 pounds at or below 400 feet above ground level (AGL) for visual line-of-sight operations only.
  • Fly under the statutory requirements for public aircraft (49 U.S.C. §40102(a) and §40125). Operate with a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) to be able to self-certify UAS and operations for flights performing governmental functions.

    Drones in Public Safety: A Guide to Start Operations

    To support first responders and other entities affiliated with them, the FAA can quickly issue authorizations for natural disaster and other emergency situation response.

    Waivers and Authorizations Supporting Emergency UAS Operations
  • Understanding Your Authority: Handling Sightings and Reports
    Federal Aviation Regulations prohibit the unsafe or unauthorized operation of an aircraft, including drones. Unsafe operations may result in substantial civil penalties and possible action against operator's FAA-issued certificate, or may be subject to criminal response by law enforcement in accordance with local laws and ordinances.

    As a law enforcement officer, you are often in the best position to deter, detect and investigate unsafe or unauthorized drone operations.

    Law Enforcement Guidance for Suspected Unauthorized UAS Operations

    Video: "Safer Skies: How the FAA Helps Law Enforcement Respond to Reports of Improper Use of UAS"

    Registration Information
    All drones over .55 pounds must be registered with the FAA before flight. Law enforcement and public safety officials may ask drone operators for registration documentation.

    Handling Complaints Involving UAS
    When responding to complaints about drone or UAS operations or a situation involving a drone, there are several things to consider. Law enforcement officers should focus on the underlying activity in drone complaints - if you take the drone out of the incident you can apply already existing law to infractions committed (for example,. reckless endangerment, voyeurism, or harassment).

    First, locate the drone operator and determine the type of operations they are performing (hobby/recreational, commercial, or public use) by objectively assessing the situation and talking to the operator, then determine what level of law enforcement action is required. Depending on the situation, it may involve a violation of FAA regulations and/or state/local laws. Violations can include operating an aircraft without registration or necessary airman certification, operating an aircraft in an unsafe manor so as to endanger persons or property, and can be either administrative or criminal.

    FAA's Law Enforcement Assistance Program (LEAP) is your point of contact for Federal, State, local, tribal and international law enforcement agencies in matters of organized crime, drug trafficking, criminal violations, and threats to the national security involving U.S. registered aircraft and FAA certificate holders.

    FAA Penalties
    The FAA is responsible for the safety of U.S. airspace. There are multiple options to fly a drone legally, however if an operator chooses not to follow those requirements he/she could face civil penalties and potential criminal prosecution.

    Law Enforcement Checklist
    FAA's UAS Law Enforcement Pocket Card helps you identify the necessary steps you need to take to respond to a situation involving a drone or UAS.
  • Detect all available elements of the situation; attempt to locate and identify individuals operating the drone. (Look at windows/balconies/roof tops).
  • Report the incident to the FAA Regional Operations Center (ROC). Follow-up assistance can be obtained through FAA Law Enforcement Assistance Program special agents.
  • Observe the UAS and maintain visibility of the device; look for damage or injured individuals. Note: Battery life is typically 20-30 minutes.
  • Notice features: Identify the type of device (fixed-wing/multi-rotor), its size, shape, color, payload (i.e., video equipment), an activity of device.
  • Execute appropriate police action: Maintain a safe environment for general public and first responders. Conduct a field interview, request proof of UAS registration, and document ALL details of the event per the guidance provided by the FAA.

    Law Enforcement Pocket Card

    Law Enforcement Guidance Card for Handling Drone Incidents
  • Public Safety and Law Enforcement Toolkit
    This toolkit is designed to assist law enforcement and public safety entities in operating and handling situations involving drones or UAS.
    Video: Know Your Authority: Unauthorized Drone Operations
    Law Enforcement Pocket Card
    Law Enforcement Guidance Card for Handling Drone Incidents
    Drones in Public Safety: A Guide to Starting Operations
    State and Local Regulation of Unmanned Aircraft Systems
    Law Enforcement Guidance for Suspected Unauthorized UAS Operations
    Letter to COA Holders - Statutory Requirements to Register UAS (November 5, 2014)
    First Responder Tactical Beyond Visual Line of Sight (TBVLOS) 91.113 Waiver Guide

    Webinar: Drone Safety: It's the Law
    The use of drones in our nation's airspace is rapidly increasing, which raises both opportunities and challenges for public safety and government officials. Learn more about how your authority allows you to take action and respond to unauthorized or unsafe drone operations.
    Webinar: Drone Safety - It's the Law

    Advisory Circular (AC) 00-1.1B
    Government or government-contracted aircraft operations must obtain COA from the FAA prior to operations.
    Advisory Circular 00-1.1B, Public Aircraft Operations

    Small UAS Rule Part 107
    This rule contains safety regulations for drones weighing less than 55 pounds.
    Summary of Part 107 Rule
    Advisory Circular 107-2

    The Exception for Recreational Flyers
    People who fly their drone, UAS, or model aircraft for fun are considered recreational flyers.
    Recreational Flyers & Modeler Community-Based Organizations
    Authorization for Limited Recreational Operations as Described in Section 44809
    Advisory Circular 91-57B - Exception for Limited Recreational Operations of Unmanned Aircraft

    Mobile Apps
    The FAA's B4UFly App assists users in determining where they can and can't fly. Law enforcement and public safety agencies can use it to determine where they can operate drones or whether drone operations are authorized in a specific location or not.

    Public Safety Small Drone Playbook
    Drones are being safely integrated into our national airspace for recreational, commercial, and public safety uses. However, unauthorized operations can cause potential hazards to people and property both in the air and on the ground. The FAA Public Safety Small Drone Playbook is intended to be used as an informational resource for public safety officials conducting investigations regarding drones. The Playbook can assist in determining the difference between authorized and non-authorized drone operations and what potential actions public safety might take.

    Frequently Asked Questions
    Find answers to common questions: Public Safety FAQs from Drone Webinar Series
    FAA Contacts for Law Enforcement
    Special agents from the FAA's Law Enforcement Assistance Program (LEAP) are your point of contact for federal, state, local, tribal, territorial and international law enforcement agencies. LEAP special agents can provide information on drone enforcement and registration matters. Providing a LEAP special agent with reports of suspected unauthorized UAS incidents in a timely manner increases the FAA's ability to take enforcement action when appropriate. (NOTE: You may contact any LEAP agent if your assigned agent is not available).

    For further information on contacting a LEAP agent, click here.
    Emergency Situations
    First responders and other organizations responding to natural disasters or other emergency situations may be eligible for expedited approval through the Special Governmental Interest (SGI) process. Operations that may be considered include:
  • Firefighting
  • Search and Rescue
  • Law Enforcement
  • Utility or Other Critical Infrastructure Restoration
  • Damage Assessments Supporting Disaster Recovery Related Insurance Claims
  • Media Coverage Providing Crucial Information to the Public

    To apply for a waiver through the SGI process you must be an existing Part 107 Remote Pilot with a current certificate OR you must have an existing Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA). For the Emergency Operation Request Form and other information, visit the FAA Emergency Situations site.
  • Law Enforcement Assistance Program (LEAP)
    The Law Enforcement Assistance Program (LEAP) consists of field investigative and operational activities that support federal, state, and local agencies by denying anyone who would threaten national security access to the National Airspace System.

    The LEAP is run by FAA Headquarters Office of National Security Programs and Incident Response, and special agents assigned to the Law Enforcement Assistance Program Division. For more resources, visit the FAA Law Enforcement Assistance Program (LEAP) site.
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