This post is also available in: Español (Spanish)
EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ—Detectives of the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office (MCPO) participated in a basic training session on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV's) and the legal processes in obtaining them on August 22.
Other topics covered included regulations set forth by the Federal Aviation Administration, basic checklist practices and flight controls, civilian use, and different types of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) including the DJI Phantom, DJI Inspire 3 series, and other custom-built models.
The Middlesex County Freeholders, during their August 20 evening meeting, passed a resolution (15-1570-R) authorizing staff from the Prosecutor's Office to attend this daytime training.
"There are no plans that I am aware of currently to purchase any drones," said Freeholder H. James Polos, who sponsored the resolution. The Freeholder, and former Highland Park Mayor, is the Chair of the Public Safety and Health Committee of the County Freeholders.
Polos has also been the Volunteer Emergency Management Coordinator of Highland Park since 1981.
"There has been no initiative by the Board, to my knowledge—although the Prosecutor’s Office is somewhat autonomous—with respect to the purchase or recommending the purchase of same,” he said.
Polos continued to explain that the training would be "an orientation to become familiar with [unmanned aerial systems], recognizing that sometimes our agencies have interworkings with other agencies which may have those at the state or federal level."
Polos says the Freeholders were not provided a list of the individuals attending the training.
When asked about the training the day after it was approved, the County Prosecutor's Office spokesperson initially told New Brunswick Today they had no involvement with the IDOPS training.
But when asked specifically about Resolution 15-1570-R, the County Prosecutor's spokesperson corrected the record, saying the MCPO was "are aware of the training, but we do not comment on training capabilities for the detective bureau."
IDOPS is one of three courses led by Emergency Manager Project LLC , a Somerset County based organization dedicated to training public service professionals.
Christopher Neuwirth, the Director of Emergency Manager Project, explains to New Brunswick Today that transparency is one of the main goals of the disaster relief training he is providing throughout the remainder of this year in Middlesex County.
"We cover everything from all of the legal processes from the FAA to the basic components of the actual vehicle," said Neuwirth, who has a Masters in Emergency and Disaster Management.
Neuwirth says he hopes to provide a service for professionals in public service fields like law enforcement, emergency management, fire safety, critical infrastructure and public works.
"We hope [the participants] go back to their communities within Middlesex in order to enact some positive change," he said in an interview.
Neuwirth explains that his upcoming 80-hour workshop on emergency management and disaster relief is the largest and most diverse class yet. The workshop is being held at the Middlesex County Police training Center in Edison, NJ. "We wanted to host a training in Middlesex County in light of Hurricane Sandy," Neuwirth said, alluding to the damage caused in towns like Woodbridge and Perth Amboy.
NO STATE REGULATIONS ON LAW ENFORCEMENT USE OF UAV'S
On August 1, North Dakota became the first state explicitly legalize the weaponization of unmanned law enforcement aerial vehicles.
Despite nationwide concern of police militarization, the government of that state now allows law enforcement to fly unmanned vehicles equipped with nonlethal weapons such as tasers.
While the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) just recently passed a regulation allowing unmanned paper planes to take flight, state-level regualtions of any kind in New Jersey have yet to be implemented.
In 2014, Governor Chris Christie vetoed a bill that would have prevented officials from using UAV's with weapons attached.
The bill would have also made it illegal for police to operate a UAV for surveillance without a warrant, or to sell information gained to any kind of third party agency.
Governor Christie gave no explanation as to why he vetoed the bill, which has since been reintroduced under the title A1039/S2310 and is now awaiting approval from the Law and Public Safety Committee of the State Senate.
Both times, this bill was sponsored primarily by Assemblyman Dan Benson (LD-14 representing Mercer and Middlesex Counties) who says that provisions like these are necessary to protect the safety of civilians.
One of the additions to the new bill is the allowance of officials to use a UAV without a warrant if they could prove probable cause. In all other instances, if the bill is signed into law, officials would be required to obtain a warrant after other methods of investigation were first used.
"Bill (A-1039/S-2310) creates clear standards to be followed by law enforcement agencies and fire departments when utilizing drones in order to protect privacy rights of New Jersey citizens," writes Benson in the "Science Policy Friday" column of his web blog.
"There has been much concern raised by residents about the increased use of drones invading personal privacy and this bill would establish common sense guidelines for government agencies to follow," Benson wrote.
"Given all the news about great use of drones by local and state agencies, the need for this legislation is becoming more apparent."
In February, the Middlesex County Freeholders voted to modify the regulations for the county's park system, adding a requirement to secure a permit to use drones. It's not clear if the new rules apply to law enforcement as well as citizens.
"We've always had a permit process for model airplane flying," said Rick Lear, the newly-appointed head of Middlesex County Parks & Recreation. "The new rules is that if somebody wanted to use [a quadcopter/drone], they would have to come to us for a permit."
AMERICAN DRONES USED TO KILL CIVILIANS OVERSEAS
The word drone has a confusing place in today's media.
Many think of the popular DJI Phantom and airbone packages from Amazon.com when they read the word. However, the history of the word is morbidly tied with lethal force used overseas.
The aircrafts initially referred to as drones, made popular during the War on Terror, have capabilities of steering themselves autonomously, or at least semi-autonomously, like the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper and MQ-1 Predator.
These models are more powerful than the rotocopters characterized as "drones" by many American news oulets.
Drones are not widely characterized as such, but they have a notorious reputation for killing many civilians including children.
Despite the mounting number of civilian deaths, the Obama Administration wishes to increase its drone operations by 50% in terms of both surveillance and lethal force.