Drone Aircraft Are Patrolling U.S. Cities

Public Intelligence

April 26, 2010

Public Intelligence has received several messages from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department requesting the removal of a Law Enforcement Sensitive document which was published on March 25, 2010 regarding Nevada’s “Silver Shield” infrastructure protection program. The document, which is from November 2007, reveals that Las Vegas Police are using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and systems to patrol the city and deliver aerial imagery during incidents or special events.  Though isolated reports of domestic UAV use do exist, there has not been widespread coverage of the growing use of unmanned aircraft systems over U.S. cities.  In March 2006, Declan McCullagh of CNET News reported that police agencies around the country were looking at the use of UAVs for all sorts of purposes, including everything from border patrol to domestic surveillance.  In an article titled “Drone aircraft may prowl U.S. skies” McCullagh writes:

In a scene that could have been inspired by the movie “Minority Report,” one North Carolina county is using a UAV equipped with low-light and infrared cameras to keep watch on its citizens. The aircraft has been dispatched to monitor gatherings of motorcycle riders at the Gaston County fairgrounds from just a few hundred feet in the air–close enough to identify faces–and many more uses, such as the aerial detection of marijuana fields, are planned. That raises not just privacy concerns, but also safety concerns because of the possibility of collisions with commercial and general aviation aircraft.

 

The document released by Public Intelligence corroborates these previous reports, indicating that as early as November 2007, Nevada law enforcement officials were discussing plans to implement the use of UAVs for aerial surveillance during special events and during incident response.  Given the character of earlier reports concerning the use of UAVs in other states, it is reasonable to assume that the usage of these unmanned systems is likely be widespread throughout the U.S.  The document also indicates that the UAVs feed into a system that is integrated with the local fusion center, along with various systems for recording and geo-mapping “Suspicious Activity Reports” which may be filed by businesses and “critical infrastructure” throughout the state.

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