The militarization of U.S. police may be extending to the use of drones.  --  In November 2007, KPRC-TV (Houston) exposed a secret test of a spy drone by police in Houston; their report has been posted on YouTube.[1]  --  KPRC noted that the drones were made by a "Washington State firm called Insitu," but didn't mention that Insitu is a wholly owned subsidiary of The Boeing Company.  --  Insitu's website calls the company "the leading provider of unmanned aircraft systems" and boasts of the military's reliance on its drones for more than fifteen years; it also reports that the company is expanding production.  --  The company is located in Bingen, WA, a few miles from The Dalles, on the Columbia River.  --  Antiwar protesters demonstrated against the company while a seminar was being held in Hood River on "Challenging robotic warfare and social control" in mid-April 2010.[2]  --  As for the interest of police in drones, Popular Mechanics has reported that the drone tested in Houston was "the Insight, a 44-pound, long-endurance drone with a 10.2-ft. wingspan" that is "currently used by both the Marines and the Navy in Iraq."[3]  --  In addition to Houston, Miami and Los Angeles police have shown interest in using drones.  --  "[P]olice in the United Kingdom are currently field-testing small, rotor-propelled drones."  --  An aviation website gave more details about police plans to use drones.[4] ...



February 1, 2009 (originally broadcast in November 2007)



By Jesse Burkhardt

The Enterprise (White Salmon, WA)
April 20, 2010

Despite having opposing viewpoints on Insitu and American foreign policy, at least the two sides could probably agree on one thing:  It was a glorious day to hold a rally.

On Monday at about 8:45 a.m., with temperatures in the high 60s and the sun shining, a group of demonstrators that eventually numbered about 80 began gathering on the sidewalk in front of the Insitu headquarters on W. Steuben Street (State Route 14) in downtown Bingen.

The demonstrators were mixed with a roughly equal number of supporters and detractors of Insitu.

The anti-war/anti-UAV protesters held signs with slogans such as:  "War feeds corporate greed," "Our children deserve a world without end, not a war without end," "No drones in the Gorge," and "War is not the answer."

The pro-Insitu demonstrators, meanwhile, carried signs with slogans including: "I love Insitu; I hate Socialists," "I love Insitu, I hope you do too," "Terrorists hate drones too," and "Insitu UAVs save our troops' lives."

The anti-UAV demonstration was sponsored by the Columbia River Fellowship for Peace, which held a weekend seminar in Hood River titled: "Challenging robotic warfare and social control." Speakers there included Cindy Sheehan, founder of Gold Star Families for Peace, and Dr. Tad McGeer, founder of the Insitu Group.

The demonstration had been planned to follow the seminar, which was held at the Riverside Community Church in Hood River.

Local law enforcement officials were visible, monitoring the crowd in the event of any trouble.  However, despite rumors of possible civil disobedience and arrests, the crowd, on both sides, remained mostly calm and peaceful.  There were a few heated exchanges between individuals in the opposing groups, but most discussed the issues without rancor.

"The event went about as smoothly as possible," said Bingen-White Salmon Police Chief Bruce Brending.  "I think the fact we communicated and met with the organizers went a long way in making sure it was a good event for all.  The Klickitat County Sheriff's Office was also a very big help, as well as having all of our officers in their cars, being seen."

According to Brending, four local police officers were on duty at the scene, and law enforcement agencies including the Klickitat County Sheriff's Office, the Skamania County Sheriff's Office, the Washington State Patrol, and police departments in The Dalles and Hood River were on call in the event of any disruptive incidents.

There were no incidents and no arrests.

At one point, a Vietnam War veteran there to protest the use of drones collapsed while crossing the road in front of Insitu.  Bingen-White Salmon Police Sgt. Jim Andring halted traffic briefly while the man's friends helped him from the pavement.

Andring said the veteran was apparently overcome with emotions triggered by his war experiences.

Protesters held a display with a depiction of a Picasso painting titled "Guernica."  According to Susan Crowley, one of the organizers of the Columbia River Fellowship for Peace, the painting was chosen because Picasso intended it to memorialize the death of civilians in warfare.

Insitu CEO Steve Sliwa said the right to demonstrate is inherently American, and he expressed support for the demonstrators' right to do so.

"It's what America is all about," Sliwa commented as he surveyed the scene in front of Insitu's Bingen headquarters.

Sliwa said he believes surveillance cameras not only save the lives of civilians and military forces in wartime, but are also important on a societal level.  He pointed to a recent video of police officers in Maryland brutally beating a University of Maryland student.  Sliwa noted that the video cameras made incidents such as that much less likely because the perpetrators could not know if their actions were being recorded, and it made a cover-up impossible.

"We think the answer is more video cameras, not less," he said.

Sliwa added that he was gratified to see the support from locals in the community.

Jerry Smith, one of the organizers of the pro-Insitu rally, said Insitu was among the county's largest employers and deserved support.  He added that the unmanned drones were saving lives, including the lives of innocent civilians.  Smith also pointed out that the Insitu drones are for surveillance only, and are not armed.

"These are not the Predators," Smith said.

On the other side of the issue, Dorli Rainey, an 83-year-old activist who lives in Seattle, said her opposition to war was personal.

"I got bombed when I was a child in Austria in World War II," Rainey explained.  "Once you're bombed, you can't ever be for war again.  It changes all your ideas about war and peace and justice."

The demonstration broke up at about 10:40 a.m., and the two sides separated and went their different ways.

Sliwa pointed out that he and his employees fully agreed with the anti-UAV protesters on one key issue.

"We all want the war to end as soon as possible," Sliwa explained.



By Erik Sofge

Popular Mechanics

The Houston Police Department wasn't planning on announcing its unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) test program.  But when a local news team from KPRC caught the drone on camera on Nov. 16, the department reluctantly released some information, however skimpy.  The FAA-approved test took place within a 2-mile radius 45 miles west of Houston, and involved a single fixed-wing drone.  The aircraft was remote-controlled from the ground by operators from Washington-based Insitu, Inc., which had also built the UAV.

Now, Insitu has confirmed that the model used in the test was the Insight, a 44-pound, long-endurance drone with a 10.2-ft. wingspan -- one that's currently used by both the Marines and the Navy in Iraq.

The Insight can be equipped with a standard electro-optical camera, as well as an infrared camera, mounted on an inertially stabilized turret.  This is a straightforward recon drone, able to operate without a runway, using Insitu's SuperWedge Launcher for takeoffs and the company's Skyhook Retrieval System for landings.  The Insight aircraft used by the Navy -- marketed as ScanEagles -- are capable of autonomous flight, but it's not clear whether those functions were part of the recent test in Texas.

Until that flight, and an announcement on Tuesday by the Miami-Dade Police Department that it would begin its own FAA-approved tests of Honeywell's Micro Air Vehicle next year, the use of drones by law enforcement has been limited.  In 2006, the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department conducted a test using a tiny, hand-launched UAV, but the FAA grounded the program immediately.  And police in the United Kingdom are currently field-testing small, rotor-propelled drones.

But if the Insight is approved for use by Houston's cops, it could put those other UAVs to shame, with the ability to take off and land autonomously, and stay airborne for 20 hours or longer, with a top speed of 86 mph and a maximum altitude of 19,500 ft.  It could also pose serious legal questions, since its daylight camera's range is listed at 100 km, with, according to Insitu, "an acuity about 50 percent better than that of the unaided eye at the telescopic end."  Search and surveillance warrants aren't required for helicopters, but when a robot is scanning your bedroom from miles away, the prospect of plain-view seizures takes on new meaning.

This month's Insight demonstration might not lead to anything -- Insitu claims that the Houston police won't be deploying UAVs in the near future, and that regulations still need to be developed to fully integrate drones into civilian airspace.  But that won't stop you -- or us -- from peering out from behind the blinds, scanning the skies for the robots scanning back.



By John Croft

Flight Global
May 30, 2008

Can UAVs help law enforcement?  With the FAA as partner, two US cities are experimenting this year to see what they can offer

The Houston Police Department is close to launching a one-year demonstration with the US Federal Aviation Administration and unmanned aircraft system manufacturer Insitu.  The object of the test will be to show how Insitu's 20kg (44lb) Insight UAS might aid law enforcement agencies in a wide variety of tasks, from traffic monitoring during hurricanes to identifying illegal shrimp fishing offshore.

The pilot program is one of two high-profile tests on tap this year in which the FAA is partnering with law enforcement in an attempt to gather data for its small UAS rulemaking effort, launched late last month, as well as to learn more about unmanned operations.  The other project, which is based in Miami-Dade County in Florida, will use a Honeywell micro air vehicle (MAV) to help Miami-Dade police with surveillance during special operations.

Finding money to acquire the equipment and keep the tests running could be problematic however, exacerbated by the fact that the FAA has no budget to support the projects.

Doug Davis, director of the FAA's unmanned aircraft programme office, says his staff of 14 is "challenged" to keep up with the requests for experimental airworthiness certificates for the aircraft, certificates of authorization for the operators and a great many questions coming from potential UAS operators unfamiliar with FAA regulations.

Police departments and other governmental agencies must obtain a certificate of authorisation to fly in civil airspace. The agreements, which generally last for one year, contain safety caveats that can include using chase aircraft or having primary radar coverage.


The Houston police and Insitu obtained a certificate to demonstrate the system to Houston mayor Bill White in November 2007.  White originally asked the police to research unmanned aircraft following Hurricane Rita in 2005, when thousands of motorists were stranded on gridlocked Houston highways after officials urged citizens to leave town.

The city's aviation assets, which included five MD500 helicopters, had been moved 645km (400 miles) west in anticipation of the hurricane's arrival, and were not available to help oversee the evacuation.  "We didn't have the information we needed," says Capt Thomas Runyan, head of Houston police's helicopter division.

The test this summer was originally envisaged as a 90-day campaign, says Runyan, but has expanded to what may be a year-long endeavour.  The change came after three days of technical meetings with the FAA in early April.  "It was decided that a fairly significant number of test flights would be needed to get the data [the FAA wants to obtain]," says Runyan.

While Insitu will provide the aircraft, pilots, ground stations and support for the programme -- a contribution Runyan says represents about $4 million in in-kind services -- the uncertainty in the duration of the test means Houston must come up with as much as $2 million of additional funding, monies Runyan and Insitu are trying to obtain from the Texas delegation in the US Congress or from other sources.  "There's always the possibility [the funding] won't come through," says Runyan, a development he says would kill the project.

Officials have identified two potential test sites, both in remote locations.  The FAA is negotiating with police on training and operational concepts. Davis says a pilot programme could be in place for the hurricane season.

Runyan says elements of Houston's certificate of authorisation include a requirement that Insitu pilots, with second class medical certificates, fly the unmanned aircraft as Houston police pilots observe.  The operators must maintain at least 4.8km line-of-sight visibility with the aircraft, which must stay within 2nm (3.7km) of the test area at less than 1,000ft (305m) above the ground. The aircraft also must stay in contact with air traffic controllers.  If contact with the unmanned aircraft is lost for more than a certain period, the aircraft must automatically return to a planned ditching site for a belly landing, says Runyan.

Meanwhile Davis says the FAA "has a certificate of authorisation ready" for the Miami trial, in which the ducted-fan MAV could be used as a tactical aid for SWAT teams in an urban setting where the department's helicopter crews would be endangered.  Davis says the Miami-Dade police were the first to approach the agency, in their case because "people were shooting at manned aircraft".  Honeywell received an experimental airworthiness certificate for the MAV early this year.

Davis says the FAA completed a frequency spectrum survey in the proposed Miami test area, a remote corner of the Everglades, in which engineers determine potential interference that could affect the link between operator and aircraft.  Of particular concern is the 900Mhz frequency range, "where a lot of radio control operators tend to populate", he says.

Dan Fouts, business development manager for Honeywell, says the Miami-Dade police plan to purchase one MAV system, including the control station and ground support equipment and daylight camera, for the test. Miami-Dade police officials say they are looking at various options to fund the project, including grants, and could not comment on purchase arrangements.  Honeywell officials in February told Flight International that the police department planned to buy one MAV and would conduct the four- to six-month pilot program using a second, leased MAV.

How Houston might go forward with a UAS acquisition pending a successful demonstration is unclear.  "We would prefer to buy [a system]," says Runyan, "but we're a little concerned about buying versus leasing because of rapid advances in technology."