The domestic drone industry has an image problem that's gotten so bad that they worry the public might try to shoot down unmanned aircraft used by law enforcement, proponents of the technology said at an industry meeting in Arlington, Va., Thursday.
"There's a pervasive belief that these are going to be used to spy—this is what our country is thinking, it's what they're being told, it's what they're assuming and seeing in the media," Steve Ingley, executive director of the Airborne Law Enforcement Association, said Thursday. "At this point, the first person who shoots down a [drone] will be a hero."
Ingley says the advent of companies such as the Oregon-based Domestic Drone Countermeasures—which plans to sell a box that makes drones "unable to complete their missions" without shooting them down—indicates that the public misunderstands what law enforcement wants to use unmanned aircraft for.
It's a sentiment that has been expressed before—conservative commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano said on Fox News last year that "the first American patriot that shoots down one of these drones that comes too close to his children in his backyard will be an American hero."
Though no law enforcement drones have been shot down in American skies, there have been several reports of citizens downing private or hobbyist drones. Last year, an animal rights group drone that was monitoring a "pigeon shoot" near a South Carolina shooting club was shot by members of the club.
While shooting down a police drone that is operating with permission of the Federal Aviation Administration is almost certainly illegal, Americans aren't so sure that it should be. According to a Reason/Rupe poll conducted last month, nearly half of Americans believe that they have the "right to destroy" a drone that flies too close to their house. Nearly two thirds of Americans said they'd be worried about local police drones invading their privacy.
Ingley contends that the drones law enforcement are most interested in can only fly for 15 minutes at a time and would be used only during dangerous situations or during search and rescue missions. "Persistent surveillance" on citizens, he says, is better accomplished by land-based cameras.
Jay McConville, President of the DC Capitol Chapter of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, says that the industry has to do a better job of differentiating their aircraft from the ones that perform airstrikes in the Middle East.
"We've got a job to do to make sure the benefits of unmanned systems are known. There's a lot of work to do to make sure [drone implementation] doesn't get throttled and delayed and stopped by legislation," he said. "This technology is dragging us into the future, but we have to make sure we do the right things so people will trust in the technology we bring."