The police department operates ground robots and unmanned underwater vehicles
The Seattle Police Department would like to restart its mothballed unmanned aircraft program in the next few years, although the emotions connected with the program are "still a little raw," Assistant Chief Paul McDonagh told attendees at the AUVSI Cascade Chapter's 2013 Pacific Northwest Unmanned Systems Conference.
The police department operates ground robots and unmanned underwater vehicles, but McDonagh said those have not proven to be politically unpopular. The department's years-long effort to fly small quardrotor UAS was not so lucky, however.
The department began planning small UAS flights in 2008, working with both the Federal Aviation Administration on safety and the Washington chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union on privacy concerns. The department purchased two Draganflyer helicopters, but a public outcry in Seattle prompted the mayor to scuttle the effort.
The Draganflyers now are "just sitting on the shelf," he said.
The department has five ground robots, from the hulking Remotec Andros to the small Applied Research Associates Pointman, which receive heavy use that has only increased in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings. Bomb squad personnel demonstrated an Andros 5A, a Pointman and an even smaller ReconRobotics Throwbot at the conference, held at the Boeing Museum of Flight in Seattle.
The department also uses remotely operated underwater vehicles, he said, but "nobody really cares that I have one that can go underwater. But I can't go up in the sky," he said.
While the department used messaging about UAS that was developed by AUVSI and supported the guidelines developed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, McDonagh said they lost the emotional argument.
"The problem was we couldn't get our message out," he said.
McDonagh offered some advice to the manufacturers in the audience. Don't try to build one system that can do everything, he said, and pay special attention to the security of the signals going to and from the UAS. The data streams need to be encrypted and the UAS need to be spoof proof, he said.
Doug Klunder, of the Washington chapter of the ACLU, addressed the conference later in the day and laid out what the group wants to see in legislation governing UAS use.
"We are as much allies as enemies. We are not out to stop the UAV industry," he said to applause from the audience. "There are many good uses for UAVs."
The ACLU is concerned about surveillance of people, not things, he said, and is primarily focused on government use, not commercial or recreational use.
In the past, the sheer cost of sustained surveillance from the air was enough to protect people's privacy, he said.
"You guys have done such a great job" to make the systems cheap and powerful, he said, that new abuses can happen.
The ACLU wants police to have to get a search warrant before using a UAS, and the flights should be mission specific, not for widespread, generalized surveillance. Emergency use should be allowed, such as for fleeing a pursuing felon, but even then a search warrant should be obtained after the fact, he said.
Data collected by UAS should be retained for as little time as possible, and the systems should never be armed in the United States, he said.
"Anything that doesn't show criminal activity should be deleted right away," he said.
The chapter also awarded its first President's Award to Joshua Senear, for outstanding service for his multiple deployments overseas as an unmanned systems operator.