Americas Police

Bill sets rules for how Alaska law enforcement can use unmanned aircraft


Matt Buxton

JUNEAU — With more and more unmanned aerial vehicles flying in Alaska’s skies, the Alaska House passed a bill setting rules for how law enforcement can utilize unmanned aircraft in day-to-day work.

House Bill 255 sets standards for law enforcement aimed at protecting Alaskans’ privacy as well as authorizes the University of Alaska to develop an unmanned aircraft systems training program.

The bill had broad support and passed the House 37-1.

“The bill includes rigorous requirements that have to be met for a law enforcement agency to employ an unmanned aircraft,” said the bill’s sponsor Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, on the House floor Wedneday.

The bill is the product of the Legislative Task Force on Unmanned Aircraft Systems, which focused mainly on law enforcement and University of Alaska training.

Hughes also is pushing to extend the task force to explore other UAS issues as the technology and industry expands.

The law enforcement sections require agencies maintain a searchable record of each flight, including the flight’s purpose, a notification system for the public in non-life endangering situations and provide for community involvement in development of an agency’s policies.

The bill also requires that the devices are operated by trained crews and that images not used as part of an investigation or prosecution are disposed or kept


Hughes said in addition for criminal investigations, UAS’s could be used for search and rescue, Amber alerts and crash mapping.

Fairbanks Rep. Scott Kawasaki, a Democrat, spoke in favor of the bill, but said that when it comes to UAS’s, there’s still a lot of “unanswered questions” about public use and privacy.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks has programs that currently employ unmanned aircraft systems for research related to the tundra, sea ice, forest fires and search and rescue.

The university was one of six locations in the country to be selected by the Federal Aviation Administration in December as a testing ground as UAS’s are integrated into U.S. airspace.

The bill now heads to the Senate.

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