While the most recent federal legislation provided new authorities to the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice for the use of drone security solutions domestically, local law enforcement agencies still have some options for preventing and responding to malicious drone activity, according a recent report by a police support organization.
One of those options includes detection technologies such as radar, acoustic and camera systems, as long as they work within limits of legal authorities, says the May report by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), a research and policy organization that provides police forces with management services, technical assistance and executive-level education.
The report notes that detection solutions that rely on detecting radio signals between an unmanned aircraft system and its operator are only allowed to be used by authorized federal agencies.
Drones: A Report on the Use of Drones by Public Safety Agencies—and a Wake-Up Call about the Threat of Malicious Drone Attacks, was supported by the DoJ Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) and is based in part on a February 2019 conference convened by COPS, DHS and PERF on the use and implementation of UAS and related policy and operational issues.
The report says that in “exigent circumstances,” such as a terrorist attack, local police can take down drone.
But that’s the rare instance where local police can counter a threat posed by a UAS.
“Drone mitigation technologies exist, but they have not been thoroughly tested in urban environments in the United States,” the 116-page report says. “Technology meant to disable a threatening drone can have the unintended impact of disrupting other radio-based technologies, such as flight safety systems onboard airplanes or air navigation services. So federal lawmakers have been hesitant to authorize major changes in the status quo with respect to enabling state and local authorities to use these mitigation technologies.”
Still, the demand for drone security technologies for local police exists.
“We’re in a race to implement technologies before we suffer a major attack,” John Miller, deputy commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism for the New York Police Department, said at the February 2019 conference. Currently, he said, “we are nowhere close” to having the authorities drone security but he warned that it’s only a matter of time before terrorist groups use drones to carry out attacks in the U.S.
Another option for local police is requesting federal help in protecting large or sensitive events but the problem for some localities is the fact that some large events occur regularly and federal help often won’t be there.
Terence Monahan, NYPD’s Chief of Department, who also spoke at the event, said, “But when you look at New York City, I’ve got the Yankees, I’ve got the Mets, I’ve got all sorts of major events where we have large groups of people to protect against drone attacks. So, for me to have to drag in my federal partners to use anti-drone technologies when we have major events almost every day, that’s going to be a problem for us. We can’t rely on federal agencies to come out and help us every time.”
Miller’s and Monahan’s comments at the conference are quoted in the PERF report.
Even when drone security technology exists, it may only be partially helpful and then there’s the issue of actually confronting a potential threat in a timely manner.
Speaking at the same conference, Kathy Lanier, the head of security for the National Football League and former police chief for Washington, D.C., highlighted the use of drone security technology at the February 2019 Super Bowl in Atlanta. That effort included coordination with the FBI, DHS and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and utilized the Ninja system developed by the Air Force Research Lab.
The Ninja system, which can redirect a drone and make it land, was estimated to only have a 50 to 60 percent success rate at the event given other radio frequency activity going on, she said. In addition to there being a good likelihood that a drone isn’t intercepted, Lanier told attendees that at the Super Bowl there’s a tremendous command and control challenge for security personnel.
“We had dozens of police departments involved, 25 different federal law enforcement agencies, and 6,000 private security guards from four different companies,” the report quotes Lanier. “How are we going to communicate that we’ve got a threat arriving in three to five minutes?” She also mentioned the use of more than a dozen radio channels in use at the game and 13 different command centers.
Other options to aid local law enforcement with drone security include restricting their use through local laws at sensitive locations, which can reduce the number of UAS that may be flying and make it easier on local authorities to focus on drone sightings that may pose a threat, the report says.
The report also cites the FAA’s ongoing effort to establish rules for remote identification of drones as a way to quickly alert law enforcement authorities of drone activity. Remote ID, essentially an electronic license plate that provide information on the drone and its owner, could help police distinguish between recreational drones and those that may be operated by criminals or terrorists, it says.
“If a drone approaches the event without this automatic identification system, it will alert the agents that the drone is not registered, which can be considered a factor in determining whether the drone constitutes a threat,” the report says.