Helicopters and other manned aircraft (air support) are very expensive to operate. Currently, The Sugar Land Police Department relies on the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Department, Houston Police Department, and the Texas Highway Patrol for air support. UAS can be used in a variety of ways that supplement mutual aid air support requests in a cost-effective and efficient manner.
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UAS is an Unmanned Aerial System and is commonly called a drone. A drone is an aerial device with an onboard computer that is operated remotely, generally by a pilot on the ground using a handheld controller. Small drones are battery operated, weigh less than 55 pounds, have several rotors like a helicopter, and are equipped with a video camera.
A UAV is an unmanned aerial vehicle and differs from an unmanned aerial/aircraft system (UAS) in one major way: a UAV is referring to the aircraft itself, not the ground control and communications units.
The word drone is the most popular synonym for an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or unmanned aerial/aircraft system (UAS). UAV and UAS are terms that originated with the military and now, because of all the public access to these types of aircraft platforms, the term “UAS” has emerged as a replacement for "UAV” and “drone”.
Listed below are examples of the types of missions for which UAS systems may be deployed. This list is not exhaustive, and other types of missions may be flown provided they follow County and agency policies and are approved by the incident commander or remote Pilot-in-Command.
The Sugar Land Police Department UAS program policy prohibits UA operators from intentionally recording or transmitting images of any location where a person would have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as private backyards or inside private buildings, except where authorized by a warrant issued by a judge or in emergency situations. Reasonable precautions can include, for example, deactivating or turning imaging devices away from such areas or persons during UAS operations.
All video activation and/or photo evidence collected during any UAS mission is stored in the same manner and location as Body Worn Camera (BWC) video and other investigative evidence. The Police Department utilizes a private “cloud” service, Evidence.com, to store all digital evidence. The service is authorized and certified under both state and federal regulations for the security and protection of confidential information, and is available only for official law enforcement purposes. Evidence is stored and saved for a limited time (one year or less) unless it is categorized as evidence in an actual crime or formal investigation. Then it is stored for a period of time consistent with all other evidence related to that incident/investigation.
Video and photos that are collected by UAS are stored for the purposes of conducting police investigation and subsequent prosecutions. Accordingly, videos and photos are generally accessible to police investigators for official use only. Like all police records, video and photos may also be subject to additional release under the same rules and restrictions as BWC Video and other items of evidence. Generally, UAS photos and video are considered part of the investigative record and are not available to the public under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). For more details, please refer to the Sugar Land Police Department policy on Body Cameras
In addition to the training and study required to maintain a FAA Part 107 Remote Pilot License, all Sugar Land Police UAS Team members train regularly in a variety of locations and settings to ensure operational efficiency. All training is documented, and the records are maintained by Sugar Land Police Department and are subject to review by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
All Sugar Land Police UAS pilots are subject to FAA regulations related to airspace use, and all must have a valid “Part 107” Remote Pilot License. UAS Pilots are also subject to the Sugar Land Police Department Policy on UAS Operations.
The UAS Program Manager (Lieutenant) or UAS Program Coordinator (Sergeant) authorizes the use and deployment of the UAS. In emergency or exigent situations, the on-duty Watch Commander can authorize the deployment of a UAS.
The Police Department has two (2) Drones,
* Drones flown by SLPD Police Officers must remain in Visual Light of Sight (VLOS). An exception to flights beyond visual light of site, is through an approved FAA Waiver for First Responders, Tactical Beyond Visual Light of Sight (TBVLOS). TBVLOS is only to be used in extreme emergency situations to safeguard human life. The drone must remain within 1500 feet of the Pilot in Charge (PIC).