Drone Aircraft Used Increasingly Around Cities

Public Intelligence

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 planning to use 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 in and around 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.

In early January 2010, KPRC News Houston reported on the Houston Police Department and the Department of Homeland Security deploying UAVs for surveillance purposes:

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 expanding rapidly 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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16 comments for “Drone Aircraft Used Increasingly Around Cities

  1. Tom Ruegger
    April 27, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    This report came from the LA Times.

    Drone to search Malibu canyons for Mitrice Richardson
    April 8, 2010 | 9:25 am

    A team of engineers from San Diego State University will use a small unmanned aircraft Thursday to search for a missing woman in Malibu.

    The drone, equipped with high-resolution cameras, will be able to dip into canyons that search teams have had difficulty accessing by helicopter and on foot, said Chip Croft, who has helped lead the search for Mitrice Richardson since she went missing in September.

    The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department will assist with the drone search and helped cover the costs to bring it to Malibu, Croft said.

    The drone, which is from SDSU’s Immersive Visualization Center, has been used in the past to find the remains of missing people after traditional search efforts fail. Croft, who is a working on a documentary about Richardson’s disappearance, said he first learned about the drone after talking to the family of Amber Dubois, an Escondido teenager who disappeared last year.

    The drone was used in the high-profile search for Chelsea King, a San Diego teenager who went missing Feb. 25.

    Richardson, 24, a Cal State Fullerton graduate, disappeared after she was released from the Malibu-Lost Hills sheriff’s station after midnight on Sept. 17, 2009, without a car, purse or cellphone. Richardson had been arrested earlier that night at a Malibu restaurant for not paying her bill. Restaurant staff told police she was acting strangely.

    Authorities have searched the hills and canyons of Malibu several times. So far, they have found no trace of her.

  2. Frank
    April 29, 2010 at 8:55 pm

    As a military contract pilot and UAV operator I understand that UAVs are only permitted to operate within restricted airspace, which would preclude their being flown in the controlled and busy airspace which usually surrounds large cities.

    Also, the imaging equipment on UAVs can identify faces from much greater altitudes than a few hundred feet.

  3. terminator
    April 30, 2010 at 9:50 am

    … waits for Skynet to takeover

  4. Ron
    April 30, 2010 at 10:55 am

    This story claims “there has not been widespread coverage of the growing use of unmanned aircraft systems over U.S. cities.” If the author would have bothered to do their homework, they would have learned that the reason there has not been widespread coverage is because there has not been any widespread use of UAVs over cities! To operate a UAV, you must either do so in restricted airspace or have a FAA COA (Certificates of Authorization). Either way, it is currently very difficult to get approval to operate over any major population center.

    • Public Intelligence
      April 30, 2010 at 1:22 pm

      You are the second person operating on a university computer system to think that you know more than the restricted documents in the story. Congratulations! Plus, you seem to take the term “over” far to literally.

      We need to start implementing an ignorant comments policy.

  5. Vicky
    May 1, 2010 at 7:39 pm

    The question is… are they American owned and operated drones or do they belong to some other country or organization?

  6. Rob Estoker
    May 2, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    Well, guess this means no more skinny dipping in the pool with the wife !!!!!!

  7. Rob Estoker
    May 2, 2010 at 7:08 pm

    OK… she left the room… what I mean’t to say was no more skinny dipping in the pool with my neighbors wife!!!!!!!!!

  8. Wheeler
    May 3, 2010 at 2:10 pm

    To those that say you must fly in restricted air space, or get certs. That is NOT so. You just have to fly BELOW the air space. Most resticted air space is above 5000 feet. It does go down around airports, mostly the big comercial ones, but at 2500 to 2ooo, you are usualy below that. And most of a city is away from the airports, so as to keep the nois problems down. So they can fly pretty much any place they want. Have you not seen all the helicopters and ultalites flying? They may have a piolet, but they are about the same.

  9. mary N
    May 4, 2010 at 12:25 pm

    why don’t they use them to activly patrol our borders. I’m all for that

  10. June 10, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    I read this piece just now, looked out my window, and did not see any drones. Are you sure about what you are saying?

    • Public Intelligence
      June 11, 2010 at 1:08 am

      Is that supposed to be a joke?

  11. Cascade
    November 11, 2010 at 10:54 am

    I first witnessed UAV’s close up over the mountains west of Price, UT after initially thinking they were fighter jets. Then I realized that they were going way to slow and hovering. Then they were actually following my curves down the mountain highway and got very close.
    These were likely from Hill AFB, UT. I was then camping near Little Sahara NM when a UAV from quite a distance targeted me with it’s laser-like white spotlight. It was pitch black out and I could still barely see it. I now know what to look for: a stationary or moving flashing red navigation light with a white spotlight.
    I have seen these in Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Northern California, Southern Oregon and even in the metropolitan Puget Sound area of Seattle.
    The other odd thing I noticed was when the spot light was directed there APPEARED to be some dust or spray being deployed. This could have been just pollution illuminated by the laser like spotlight, or are they spraying smart dust for target tracking???

  12. Ba Marley
    January 14, 2011 at 2:44 pm

    Here in Kansas City, early this morning (~ 115 am – 2 am), Jan. 14, 2011, something was circling above at low altitude. Was not a plane or helicopter; unlikely in this weather it was an ultralight. I’ve seen & heard drone aircraft. Whatever it was, it circled in a pattern above the city. Is there a way to determine what aircraft were flying at that time?

    What is the purpose of drone surveillance, anyway? What technology is used in these creatures? Are they taking photos? Detecting heat/infrared/movement?

    More questions than answers at this point. Thanks for posting the article.

  13. Dale
    June 16, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    Thanks to Public Intelligence (and some of the commenters) for “opening my eyes” in this direction. My eyes are already “open” in certain other directions. I suppose that one only has “time” to notice what is near the “front of their vision” and I feel the the vast majority of citizens of the USA (people of the world) are “sheeple,” unfortunately.

    I also feel that most of the “wise” readers already know that certain people (government or otherwise) do whatever they “must do” to accomplish their “agenda.” Many of those “entitled” folks also, unfortunately, feel justified in the process.

    Please stand up for your “freedom.” No action means acceptance. Acceptance fosters more “control.” May God Bless the True USA, not the “captured program” USA.

  14. January 22, 2013 at 5:49 pm

    Very good blog you have here but I was wanting to know if you knew of any user discussion forums that cover the same topics discussed in this article?
    I’d really like to be a part of group where I can get opinions from other experienced individuals that share the same interest. If you have any recommendations, please let me know. Many thanks!

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