ATTORNEY SAYS FAA UAS LAW ENFORCEMENT GUIDELINDS OFF TARGET

Posted: 1/17/2015

Attorney says FAA UAS law enforcement guidelines off target
By Patrick C. Miller | January 15, 2015

[James Mackler is currently an attorney working in Tennessee. He is a former Blackhawk pilot and current legal adviser for a Tennessee National Guard unit.
PHOTO: BONE MCCALLESTER NORTON LAW]
James Mackler is currently an attorney working in Tennessee. He is a former Blackhawk pilot and current legal adviser for a Tennessee National Guard unit.
PHOTO: BONE MCCALLESTER NORTON LAW

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration?s guidelines for law enforcement to assist in identifying those flying unmanned aerial systems (UAS) in an unsafe manner or in violation of its regulations might create more problems than they solve.

James Mackler, a criminal defense attorney with expertise in UAS law, said he believes law enforcement agencies will have little interest in helping the FAA enforce civil violations in which they have no jurisdiction.

?I would guess that if I was a police chief anywhere in the country, this would go at the bottom of my pile of things to do,? said Mackler, a former U.S. Army Blackhawk pilot with the Bone McCallester Norton law firm in Nashville, Tennessee, who also advises a Tennessee National Guard UAS unit.

After reviewing the FAA?s guidelines, Mackler said, ?Law enforcement is busy enough investigating crimes, and police should know that they have no authority of any kind to investigate civil violations of administrative regulations.?

The FAA said it?s asking the law enforcement community for help because the increased use of small, inexpensive UAS creates ?a challenge in identifying people who don?t follow the rules of the air or who endanger the nation?s airspace.?

?They say that we must exercise caution not to mix criminal law enforcement with the FAA?s administrative safety function, and that?s right,? Mackler said. ?And yet they go on to basically ask law enforcement officials to help them with their administrative functions.?

The 12-page guidelines are intended to assist law enforcement agencies in understanding the legal framework for FAA enforcement action against UAS operators. They also provide guidance in ?deterring, detecting, and investigating unauthorized and/or unsafe UAS operations.?

For example, if a UAV is spotted violating temporary flight restrictions during a sporting event, the FAA says law enforcement officials should attempt to find the operator. They should provide operators with the language from applicable regulations and advise them that they are subject to safety regulations.

Criminal charges that could be applied include reckless endangerment, operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence, trespass, assault or any relevant local, state or county codes. But Mackler said law enforcement would investigate crimes related to such charges regardless of whether UAS were involved.

He noted that if a state has passed UAS-related laws such as measures to protect privacy or prohibit UAVs for hunting, law enforcement officers would be operating within their jurisdictions to enforce those laws. Mackler also said that if a UAV was involved in an incident such as causing an accident or injuring a person, the FAA guidelines might be helpful in evidence collection procedures.

?The police can only stop someone if they have reaso