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Inexpensive Weaponized Drones Will Pose Unique Domestic Threats

@Tony_Hallett, CEO, Unmanned Response

The April 2013 Boston Marathon bombing was planned and executed by brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerian Tsarnaev. Their tactics illustrate how terrorists adapt to conditions and opportunities. They knew the area would be swept prior to the crowds arriving so they waited until the race had started then casually placed two backpack bombs along crowded sidewalks.

However, as with other “lone wolves” who were physically present at their crime scenes, the terrorism careers of the Tsarnaev brothers were short-lived.

Bombings masterminded by organized terrorist groups typically utilize suicide bombers or other intermediaries which will (1) increase the chance of accurate targeting and timing and (2) eliminate the need to facilitate an escape from the target site. In essence, it’s remote-control terrorism using suicide bombers to do the dirty work.

Leadership   —>   Intermediary   —>   Target

The 9/11 attack on the U.S. fits this equation. Lone wolf terrorists have also used intermediaries. Ted Kaczynski (aka the Unabomber) conducted 16 bombings over 18 years. He avoided identification by using an unsuspecting intermediary: the U.S. Postal Service.

Kaczynski   —>   Parcel Delivery (USPS)   —>   16 Targets

The use of intermediaries is the dominant feature of ‘in absentia’ crime or terrorism: Leadership is not linked directly to the crime scene. By serving both roles – leaders and intermediaries – the Tsarnaev brothers did not follow the equation.

Tsarnaev Brothers   —>   Target

It proved to be a deadly mistake. Surveillance cameras, personal cell phones, and extraordinary analytics (personnel and technology) quickly identified the suspects.

Kaczynski   —>   Intermediaries   —>   18 Years To Identify 

Tsarnaev Brothers  —>   No Intermediaries   —>   3 Days To Identify 

The Tsarnaevs’ actions suggest they did not want to get caught – they weren’t suicide bombers planning a one-way trip to Martyr Paradise. Timothy McVeigh (Oklahoma City) was also a “one-and-done” domestic terrorist who tried to avoid detection. Like the Tsarnaev brothers, he didn’t use intermediaries and was quickly identified and arrested.

Its conceivable that domestic terrorists will make tactical adjustments because of the back-end failures of lone wolves like McVeigh and the Tsarnaev brothers. They will continue to exploit our vulnerabilities but also may deploy a new type of intermediary. Consider:

  • In 2007, 43-year-old, al Qaeda trained Christopher Paul was arrested in Columbus, Ohio, for plotting a series of terrorist bombings. Paul had researched drones and possessed a 5-foot-long remote-control helicopter when arrested.
  • In 2011, 26-year-old Rezwan Ferdaus was arrested in Boston for plotting to fly three fixed-wing drones loaded with C-4 plastic explosives into targets in Washington, DC. The FBI’s affidavit provides intriguing details.
  • In early 2013, four terrorists were jailed in England for plotting to strap explosives to a remote-control car and drive it under the gate at a nearby military base.

Terrorist organizations frequently use inanimate intermediaries (weaponized cars, trucks, boats, and planes) that are delivered by human intermediaries. It is reasonable to assume they and their followers will adopt unmanned systems technologies, especially considering the low cost and easy acquisition. An quadcopter capable of carrying an improvised explosive device (IED) can be easily purchased online or in hobby stores for under one thousand dollars. There are technical challenges to weaponizing small drones but terrorists are clever craftsmen of destruction.

The use of unmanned intermediaries would dramatically complicate investigations and prolong the identification and apprehension of perpetrators. There will be little initial evidence to determine if an attack was caused by an idealogical, disgruntled, or delusional lone-wolf, or if it was transnational or even state sponsored terrorism. Additional features of concern include:

  • Unmanned systems afford the same advantages of a live intermediary – accuracy and timing.
  • A single operator can conduct multiple, simultaneous attacks.
  • A drone strike in the U.S. would create widespread public fear and be a major public relations victory among those hostile toward the U.S. military drone policies.

The unmanned systems threat isn’t only aerial. Any ground vehicle (cars, trucks, construction equipment, ATVs, etc.) can be retrofitted with remote-control technology. Will it be long before we see a self-driving car bomb? Boats and subsurface vehicles can also be converted. Should we prepare for an unmanned weaponized maritime attack on a bridge, pipeline, dam, or riverfront night club?

Weaponized drones present unique tactical challenges for first responders. Primary and secondary bombing targets can be declared “clear” (no device located), but not “safe” (since an IED can be remotely guided in at any time, just as the Tsarnaev hand delivered their bombs after the marathon started). Perimeter security such as fencing around sports stadiums is no longer a detriment and could actually amplify the destruction because of the chaos created by clogged exit routes.

There is a clear need, arguably an urgent need, for public safety professionals to prepare for the domestic threat posed by unmanned systems. Consider Timothy McVeigh’s chilling statement made shortly before his 2001 execution: “You can’t handle the truth, because the truth is, I blew up the Murrah Building, and isn’t it kind of scary that one man could wreak this kind of hell?”


Other posts by Hallett on the Society of Police Futurists International blog include: Drones, Friends or FoesTen Reasons Why First Responders Aren’t Buying UAVsThe Proliferation of ‘In Absentia’ Crime; and Remote-Control Recruitment by Sexual Predators

Remote-Control Recruitment by Sexual Predators

@Tony_Hallett, CEO, Unmanned Response

Sexual predators are early adopters of technology. They embraced the Internet, which dramatically enhances their ability to engage and groom victims. Remote-control planes, copters, cars, trains, and boats (which are collectively referred to as “R/Cs” in this paper) also fit perfectly into their methodology.

  • Engage and Recruit: R/Cs are kid magnets. Predators can take one of these to a local park and will find plenty of children who are eager to engage.
  • Groom: Predators will quickly establish a common bond with children, spurred by “shared” fascination and interaction with the R/C.
  • Gifts: Predators will solidify their relationships by giving victims their own R/C to take home, show parents and friends, and prominently display in their bedroom.

Sexual predators are charmingly manipulative. “Do you like remote-control toys?” (bait) “Have you asked your parents to get you one?” (probe to determine if its a single-parent home) “Why won’t your parents get you one?” (emotionally isolate the child) “Would you like to operate the controls?” (offers excitement; exhibits trust in the child) “Don’t worry, its not hard to operate and I’ll help you.” (supportive; sets stage for physical contact) “Look at how good you’re doing!” (positive reinforcement)

A predator may position himself to “help” with the controls, providing the opportunity to experiment with (seemingly) nonsexual contact while the child’s focus is on the R/C. (For frotteurs, the contact is a sexual experience.) A predator with extra R/C batteries can continue this cycle of engagement, grooming, and contact for hours, exploring and exploiting the vulnerabilities of several potential victims and parents.

R/Cs will also appeal to stalkers and sexual voyeurs. Their powerful audiovisual “capture and transmit” capabilities enable R/Cs to be hidden near a park, playground, public swimming pool, bar, school, or workplace, allowing operators to observe and even follow unsuspecting targets.

R/Cs of all types and sizes are potentially high-tech Trojan horses. A predator can remotely activate on-board electronic devices to gain audio and video access from the R/C, even if it is located inside a target’s home. A tech-savvy predator can tap into a local wireless network and browse through files, email accounts, and chat sessions.

Acquiring an R/C is easy. Thousands of personal drones are sold each month and that number is rapidly expanding. A good R/C quad copter with a high resolution video camera costs about five hundred dollars, although models are available in all price ranges. Some companies offer conversion kits they claim will “turn anything into a drone.”

If an incident is reported to police, will officers realize that an R/C may be sending a live audio/video feed to a perpetrator? If an R/C is stalking a victim or a neighborhood, will the police conduct a stakeout and pursue the offending drone with their own R/C police copter?

The answer to both questions is “probably not.” Most law enforcement officers are not aware of the threats and capabilities of R/Cs. Less than 25 of America’s 18,000 state and local police departments have been granted permission by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to operate unmanned aerial systems. Until there is broad integration of unmanned systems into public safety operations, police officers will not have the familiarity or capability to effectively address this growing threat.

Consider this: If a police department wants to operate an R/C, it must first do the following:

  • Employ at least two operators (pilot and observer) who pass a training program approved by the FAA and pass an FAA second-class medical exam
  • Demonstrate operator proficiency on their specific R/C model
  • Apply for and obtain permission from the FAA (a Certificate of Authorization, or COA) to fly their specific R/C model – a two-month process at best
  • The COA restricts flight operations to a pre-defined area
  • The COA restricts flights to only daylight hours unless the operator has an FAA pilot’s license and instrument rating
  • Maintain meticulous logs of all flight activities

In contrast, if a sexual predator, even a registered sex offender (or anyone else for that matter), wants to operate an R/C for “recreational purposes” they must first do the following:

  • Nothing

No registration, no training, no tests, no approvals, no reports. Just buy and fly, day or night.

Same remote-control plane or copter. Two very different standards.

The regulatory complexities are not the only issues that discourage police departments from researching and deploying R/Cs. Wails of protests from privacy advocates and reactionary politicians have unfairly portrayed law enforcement professionals as everything from peeping toms to architects of a police-state. Why would a police chief invite public scorn, fight for a new line-item in the budget, navigate the regulatory compliance process, and place the R/C into service, only to watch helplessly as overzealous lawmakers outlaw the use of unmanned aerial systems by police departments?

Eventually, these and other challenges will be overcome. Until then, it appears likely that sexual predators, stalkers, and voyeurs will creep into the lives of unsuspecting victims using remote-control technologies while police departments are (as usual) handcuffed by politics, bureaucracy, and ever-changing rules.

The Tension Between Today and Tomorrow

I’ve met a lot of great, impressive people in PFI.  One of the more impressive figure is Rick Myers, a former chief in a number of departments, a CALEA commissioner, a former president of PFI, and a colleague in the Futures Working Group.  Rick has graciously agreed to do a guest post on the blog titled “The Tension Between Today and Tomorrow.”  Drawing on his experience, Rick draws attention to the fundamental challenges facing every chief in their battle to lead for tomorrow while managing today.  His insight follows:

Being a charter member of PFI, and having been fully indoctrinated by Dr. Tafoya way back in 1989, I’ve been thinking about the future for a long time….so long that some of it has come and gone!  I enjoy thinking about the environment of policing 25 years from now and what we need to do to prepare.  However, I’m finding a definite tension that draws me back to dealing with today’s crises, which often have little resemblance to what the forecasts say lie ahead.

As a chief, I often had to fight off being bogged down with today’s crises, personnel issues, nagging policy snafus, etc.  Even tougher was getting my staff out of the daily funk and thinking forward.  I believe it is a forever battle.

But, now, as someone who finds himself consulting at different agencies, I’m really drawn away from the future as I attempt to assist agency leaders try to fix what’s broken today.  And, there is plenty out there that’s broken.

In one setting that I’m assisting at, they’ve set a goal to become accredited in the next few years.  Now, as a CALEA Commissioner, I’m all about encouraging more and more agencies to achieve this proven demonstration that they’ve crossed the bar and sustain adherence to best practices and high standards.  But, in this setting, the agencies involved have so many issues to address, I’ve had to express my sincere observation that they’re wasting cognitive energy worrying about accreditation that should be poured into just basic requirements of a police agency.  In other words, I’m discouraging futures thinking! 

Lest you think, good reader, that I should turn in my membership card, I assure you that I haven’t stopped thinking forward.  In this setting, I’ve engaged some of my colleagues to be thinking about how we could help the struggling leadership totally re-think how policing is done and organized in this setting.  Are there alternative structures?  Are there services that “the police” won’t or shouldn’t be preoccupied about in the future?  How can emerging technology improve services there?  And, what about the human equation, what future recruitment, training, and accountability processes might benefit in this setting?

I recall in my second chief’s position, going from being “the dayshift” to actually having a quiet office where I could think.  It was during this time that I attended the NA and met Dr Tafoya.  I’ve been thinking ever since. Futurists know about this tension between today and tomorrow.  As leaders, there is no way to abandon the problems of today simply to dream about tomorrow.  The key may be to use that tension to CONNECT today and tomorrow. Bridge builders sometimes use tension as a key ingredient of constructing spans that last a long time.  While I don’t think like an engineer, I am thinking that this tension might be a bridge for us to say, “ok, here is one of today’s major issues; if we do nothing, what might it look like in 5, 10, 20 years?  If we do X, what might it look like?  If we do Y?, etc”  Similarly, something that might resemble a minor concern today might appear more like a major crisis in the making from a forecast perspective.  So, instead of struggling with the tension between today and tomorrow, it can serve as a daily reminder that no matter what we’re up against now, there are implications and, if we’re lucky, maybe even strategies lurking ahead.  Likewise, if we’re scanning today’s environment and see a trend that has little impact on us today, let’s not overlook it until it blows up; perhaps we can roll it into our strategic thinking.

If we do a little less structured Strategic Planning (I believe in it, but hate going through the process) and instead daily use the tension between today and tomorrow to think more strategically every day, we might find that we benefit both today AND tomorrow.  Just a thought…


Rick Myers


Where’s the Bologna?: Wannabe Sociopaths, Psychopaths and CEO’s.

One lazy day this summer, having read about socio/psychopaths being highly successful as CEOs, my teenager asked me it was really true that there are many of them out there. I acknowledged it happens and tried explaining as far as I understood. My didactic thoughts on toxic and good leadership fell short of the teen imagination because weeks later, having scanned the internet and poured through our old university texts, he broached the subject again. What he shared was an insightful glimpse at pop thinking. Ironically, there appears to be both blatant and tacit appreciation for disordered personalities in the workplace. More to the point, it seems our inchoate workforce are being exposed to the ideas that personality traits of socio and/or psychopaths are something to admire and even aspire to as a model or means to success.

I cannot offer scientific proof that a trend is occurring, but instead offer the supposition that is worth taking a good look at how the concept of wannabe socio/psychopath CEO intersects with current and future pools of job applicants. If personality disorders, mimicked or innate, are being seen as a way to get ahead, despite the widely known hallmarks of narcissism and egocentrism, then it’s worth looking at the implications this may have for the future of the very public service of policing.

Not long after that illuminating conversation, I was reading an author’s note at the end of The Malice of Fortune. A particular paragraph jumped at me off the page. I won’t divulge the novel’s storyline, but must first explain the book entertains intriguing elements of Machiavelli’s admiration (as well as distaste and later condemnation in Discourses) for the Duke Valentino’s persona (aka Cesare Borgia). The Duke was later immortalized as Machiavelli’s “Prince”.  Ennis, who is a historian, comments on the plethora of documentation showing Valentino was what we would call a psychopath in today’s world. Yet, he was stylized as the epitome of a necessary evil … for the times (i.e., 16thC Italy when chaos reigned supreme between city-states).  Context is critically important because he lived in a world where free republics were still dreams, pre-dating the rebirth of democracy through the French and American revolutions.

Connecting this to my thoughts about wannabe disordered CEOs, Ennis notes that with all of the Duke’s antisocial tendencies:

“Valentino was the first modern leader, his conscience-free, lethal expedience providing a remarkably effective and enduring template for sociopaths seeking power in any time, place, or organization; the same amoral realpolitik that has guided mass-murdering dictators is now studied by corporate CEOs and marketed as career advice for middle-management schemers.” (p.393)

Ennis suggests a trend is in progress, linking the socio/psychopathic leader to the 21st Century. This may or may not be conjecture, but it is terrifying all the same; especially given that the Prince was extolled as a necessary evil in ruthless, pre-democratic times. Yet, what remains shockingly lost is that the Prince was not actually the preferred ideal. Rather, he was imperfect in the context of a free world model (refer to Machiavelli’s discourses on radical egalitarianism in The Prince and The Discourses, as well as Machiavellis True Views, The Discourses vs. The Prince).

Personally, I think Machiavelli had an ingenious talent for reading people. If I were on the path to CEO-hood, I would re-read The Prince; to understand socio/psychopaths as leaders, not to become one.

Has a fad emerged, creating a trend? Last year, a psychologist I know included me on a blast-out article about executive sociopaths, claiming “Hey! For all you sociopaths, it’s now okay to be one!” (Really?) Popular links between socio and/or psychopaths and CEOs has become mainstream. Not surprisingly, it’s so common that it appears as regular repertoire in the Dilbert comic strip series; the ultimate dysfunctional workplace. When satire happens, it’s a good indication we ought to pay attention to the reality.

Consider the eager young professional developing a career strategy. Surfing the internet, with no dearth of information extolling “attributes” of the sociopathic CEO (e.g., Forbes: Why some psychopaths make great execs). Granted, there are equally many articles and interviews on the need to guard against socio and psychopathic traits and types in the workplace (e.g.,  Faculty Research in Progress ), but what’s startling are the undertones of the “sexier”, more youthfully appealing sites that appear to tacitly endorse acceptance of the sociopathic persona, simply because they hold out promises of success. For some, they strike the deeper chords, pitching to and/or portraying people who are already successful (e.g., Popular business courses for execs,   Forbes: Machiavellian business lessons from a billionaire, Machiavelli on modern leadership , as well as myriad Youtube videos). Cool?

While a long-term foothold in executive boardrooms by these wannabes may not be pervasive, there is still potential for havoc and caterwauling anywhere it is left to proliferate. What ought to be clarified are the differences between “monsters” and leaders. This, it seems to me, overlaps the toxic leadership conversation.

We know toxic leadership exists and prevails. Many of us have witnessed its effects. We may be taking steps to get past the horror stories, injustices, and weeding out the caustic individuals, but if a movement is afoot where disordered personality traits are being revered, then it’s plausible others are grooming themselves in the wings to fill those vacancies. These wannabes, however, may be better armed with articulated purpose, and not so easy to weed out.  

Are the possibilities of this happening in policing any different than in executive boardrooms? Current police/rank structures both allow and deter the promotion of personality disordered candidates. The difficulty is recognizing them when there is a blurring of lines; when they are particularly adept at manipulation. And then what do you do once they’ve achieved their aims and are confirmed in ranks?

 What is particularly relevant to the policing culture is whether we are succeeding at pointing out the differences between acceptable and egregious traits or behaviours among personnel, and whether more needs to be done. Wannabe or actual socio/psychopath CEOs in private business may or may not wane, depending on the power of economic times, but, as with all things, we need to be mindful of what will shape the future of public service, law enforcement, and policing in entirety.


The bologna? You’d have to ask Machiavelli.

Divide and rule, a sound motto. Unite and lead, a better one.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

Julie Grimaldi,MA
(Retired Strategic LE Planner)


The Silver Crisis

The Silver Crisis

The Silver Crisis – if you’re thinking this crisis has to do with metal and money – wrong. Over the next 15 years, a real human crisis is headed our way – 78 million, or what is left of them, baby boomers, and a good number of older Generation X citizens, will be almost fully retired and heading into the sunset. On its own that may not seem like a huge issue, but consider that many of the caregivers for these people will either be senior citizens themselves or, and this is the worst case scenario, they have no children or relatives to care for them. In that case, who or what public agency will be there to help them? You guessed it, police. Many of the younger Baby Boomers and Gen Xers are sandwiched between caring for their own parents and their children.

In most states, there is some kind of public agency, in Texas it is the Adult Protective Services which is under the Department of Health and Human Services or some other state agency, that provides a safety net for these citizens. This service has a very limited role in “protecting” a citizen who has reached his or her 65th birthday and is a danger to themselves or others. Wanna bet that when the silver crisis hits the fan, it will be woefully understaffed and under motivated to deal with the influx of “clients?” For argument’s sake, let’s just say they are and those golden oldies will have a safety net to look after their best interests in APS, or similar agency, what about those older Americans who clearly are competent, in the eyes of the law, or who may be borderline, and their family or other caregiver has no money to have them declared incompetent? What then? Is the state going to sue the “client” to have them declared incompetent so that it can take care of them? Doubtful.

Police departments all over the USA, the world in fact, will have demands placed on them that will not only stretch their resources but challenge them to find “ways” to be able to help them or their caregivers. Imagine, if you will, the following scenario: A citizen calls the police department asking for help to keep their aging parent from driving. Seems the parent still drives, but clearly shouldn’t by virtue of the dents and dings the car. One problem, the parent still lives on his or her own, but clearly are showing signs of dementia or other physical limitations, but not yet incompetent, at least no labeled as such by a competent court. What do you do? Sue your own parent for conservatorship – maybe – assuming the citizen has the financial resources to do that. Have them assessed by a court to have their driving privileges revoked. Maybe, if an officer can articulate with sufficient facts why his or her driver’s license should be revoked. Bottom line, if you try and have APS intercede, good luck with getting a live human to assist you. Chances are, if your department has not already established a connection with an APS operative, you will not be getting much help from them.

Or, consider that the senior citizen lives in an assisted living community; however, they have become abusive or aggressive and he or she is asked to leave the community – polite for thrown out? What happens to them then? Are departments going to send officers to evict him or her…throw him or her into the streets?

The silver train is on the tracks.

Chief G. M. Cox, Ph.D.

Murphy PD, Texas

Ten Reasons Why First Responders Aren’t Buying UAVs

@Tony_Hallett, CEO, Unmanned Response

Spurred by military spending during the Second Gulf War, the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) market has experienced sensational growth. As the conflict subsided, manufacturers turned their attention to the domestic market. A March 2013 industry report concludes “… agriculture and public safety are the most promising markets” for UAVs, estimating a $13.6 billion economic impact and the creation of 70,000 new jobs in the first three years.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for the safe integration of UAVs into national airspace by September of 2015 as set forth in sections 334-336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. The Act includes an exception that allows public safety agencies to immediately utilize UAVs if granted a two-year Certificate of Authorization (COA) from the FAA.

UAVs are remarkable tools that can assist first responders with a wide range of tasks. Yet, the latest data from the FAA show only 25 out of more than 65,000 state and local police, fire, and EMS agencies have applied for a COA. Why aren’t first responders integrating UAVs into their operations? At least ten clear reasons emerge:

FAA REQUIREMENTS. First responders who want to start a UAV program must navigate a complex, confusing, expensive, time-consuming, frustrating process to even apply for FAA approval. (Just finding a comprehensive list of requirements is challenging.) After spending considerable time and money, the COA application might be denied. If approved, it’s only for a two-year period.

VOLATILE LEGISLATIVE ENVIRONMENT. The image of UAVs has been badly tainted in the media resulting in a contemptuous attack on the integrity of the law enforcement profession. Irresponsible overreaction by several lawmakers (and at least one city mayor) shows that political understanding and support are fragile. Why buy a UAV today when your state legislature might ban it next week?

LATE ADOPTERS. First responders are neither impulse buyers nor early adopters of technology as evidenced by the dependence on legacy systems. Consider this: If a child takes a cell phone picture of a creepy stalker, most 911 centers do not have the technology in place to receive the photo.

KNOWLEDGE & EXPERIENCE. Most first responders are not familiar with the capabilities, options, and features of unmanned systems. There does not appear to be any UAV orientation embedded in academic curriculum or public safety training centers. Media coverage provides little substance. The only in-person exposure for most first responders is at crowded exhibit booths during conferences. While these encounters spark a novelty interest, they do not adequately demonstrate the capabilities or value of UAVs.

STANDARDS. Most public safety agencies (especially fire departments) deploy resources that conform to applicable performance, licensure, or accreditation standards. Moreover, agencies will need to adjust existing protocol to accommodate UAVs. Until unmanned systems are fully integrated into external standards and internal policies and procedures, they won’t be widely integrated into first responder operations.

RELIABILITY. There are five characteristics of any new technology that concern first responders: (1) It is more complex to operate than promised; (2) it can be hacked or virus infected; (3) the company that sold it won’t be around within six months; (4) it will malfunction/break in unimaginable ways within seven months; and (5) it will be obsolete within eight months.

LIABILITY. Public safety agencies will not introduce an “unknown” factor into time-tested emergency response protocols. The UAV failure (crash) rate is dramatically higher than for manned aircraft, a fact not lost on public safety risk managers.

PERSONNEL. Small public safety agencies will likely rely on innovators from within the ranks to launch UAV programs. What happens if the innovator leaves the department? Many large agencies must navigate personnel issues such as union work rules, assignment bidding, and reassignment of manpower.

SUPPORT NETWORK. First responders who see the value of UAVs have limited opportunities to share ideas, information, and insight with other public safety professionals who are operating or interested in unmanned systems.

COST. Most first responders have no experience with UAVs and, therefore, no reference point for costs such as RFP preparation, acquisition, training, insurance, staffing, transporting, operations, maintenance, and certifications. Since first responders are unfamiliar with costs and benefits, they are unable to conduct a realistic cost-benefit analysis.

The implication for first responders is disheartening. UAVs could have an immediate and dramatic impact on public safety training, planning, responses, rescues, and investigations. Polls show overwhelming public support for the use of UAVs by first responders. Sadly, because of the reasons above, few communities in the United States will benefit from this marvelous technology in the foreseeable future.

The implication for the unmanned systems industry is alarming. Several market research reports have painted an optimistic multi-billion dollar picture for the years ahead. However, the fact that only 25 of the 65,000 potential (public safety) customers in the U.S. have applied for a COA is telling. Underperformance in the public safety market may be an omen of similar challenges that lie ahead in commercial markets.

The integration of UAVs into the public safety market is being closely watched by many stakeholders. So far, there’s not much to see.

The Proliferation of ‘In Absentia’ Crime

@Tony_Hallett, CEO, Unmanned Response

Statistics imply that the crime rate in the United States is stable; perhaps even declining. However, there are equally compelling statistics, albeit not neatly packaged, that suggest a dramatic rise of unsolvable crime is on the horizon.

Consider cybercrime, widely recognized as America’s top national security threat. The separation from both the crime scene and victim dramatically reduces the likelihood of prosecuting, or even identifying, a perpetrator. Current FBI statistics show conventional crime (such as burglary) is declining while cybercrime, which is more lucrative, is increasing:




Avg Loss





– 3.7%



FBI 2012 UCR



+ 8.3%


5.0% (est)

FBI 2012 IC3

Cybercrime is not the only “long-distance” crime. Postal services have been used for anonymous delivery of explosives for 250 years. Telephones have been used to threaten and defraud victims for decades.

One of the most infamous long-distance perpetrators is the Unabomber. His 18-year terror campaign prompted one of the longest and most expensive FBI investigations in history. Yet, Ted Kaczynski eluded detection until he was turned in by his own brother. The implications are chilling. One delusional guy, living in a shack, remotely terrorized America for nearly two decades.

We are now at the doorstep of an even more terrifying modus of remotely-committed crime. Fueled by success in combat, unmanned robotic vehicles (aka drones) in all shapes and sizes are headed for American soil, airways, and waterways. Drones will soon proliferate in business, recreation, and (predictably) crime.

First responders are not only unprepared for robotic crime, most are unaware this threat even exists. Perhaps the concept of a drone committing a crime is just too abstract for anyone but Sci-Fi enthusiasts. Not long ago, the concept of two planes flying into the World Trade Center was also quite abstract.

The unique feature of parcel, telephone, cyber, and robotic crime is that a perpetrator can effectuate a criminal act from a remote location through an intermediary such as a mail carrier or the Internet. I call this in absentia crime.

In Absentia Crime





Explosives and Biological Agents

Threats, Pranks, Stalking, Fraud

Fraud, Child Porn, Stalking, Threats

Virtually Any Cyber or Conventional Crime

Robotic crime will have a profound impact on all public safety agencies. “UFO” sightings, pranks, accidents, stalking, property crimes, and eventually violent crimes will dramatically disrupt conventional response and mitigation protocol. A threatened bomb site can no longer be given an “all clear” after a search – weaponized drones can be deployed to any target, any time. Indeed, unmanned robotic systems extend the tactical capabilities of a tech-savvy lone wolf who can now simultaneously attack multiple targets with multiple drones.

Criminal investigations will likewise be disrupted. Place and time, as in “placing the suspect at the scene when the crime occurred”, are no longer relevant parameters. The characteristics of in absentia crime will contribute to longer and more expensive investigations.

Investigation Objectives

“In Absentia” Crime Characteristics

1.  Identify the suspect

2.  Verify the suspect had the means, motive, and opportunity

3.  Connect the suspect to the crime scene

– Incomplete, inconsistent, or non-existent criminal statutes

– Few if any witnesses to provide testimonial evidence

– Little or no physical evidence at primary crime scene

– Perpetrators difficult to identify and find

– At least two crime scenes, often in multiple jurisdictions

– Responders and investigators unfamiliar with the technology

– Warrants often needed for social media and wireless carriers

– Lack of forensic examination standards for robotic crime

– Perpetrator seldom has physical connection to crime scene

Who will respond to and investigate robotic crime? Most of the 18,000 local and state law enforcement agencies do not have the capacity for complex responses and prolonged investigations. Yet, local departments will have no choice but to respond when a shotgun-toting quad shows up in the neighborhood or a camera-equipped quad is peering into someone’s bedroom window.

Then what? Which of the 70+ federal law enforcement agencies might have responsibility and jurisdiction? Even if a rouge drone is safely “captured,” which of the 400+ public crime labs in the country is prepared to conduct a thorough forensic analysis?

Disruptive innovation is a game changer that awards competitive advantage to early adopters. The addition of robotic crime to cyber and other in absentia crime dramatically disrupts longstanding tactical strategies of first responders and criminal investigators. It is imperative to recognize and prepare for this imminent threat before the sinister image of a weaponized drone replaces the hooded Unabomber sketch as the icon of unsolvable crime.

Us, Them and Shaping our Problem-Solving

Lately, I’ve been attracted to the notion of group identity as a way of structuring problems.  The logic lies in social evolution and the expectation that groups that exhibit collaborative behaviors should have an advantage over groups lacking that behavior.  Over tens of thousands of years of prehistoric human society, these groups came to dominate.  But, collaboration with the wrong people can be costly and, particularly in times of stress like war or famine, may create a threat to survival.  In order for collaboration to provide an advantage, the boundary between those with whom we will collaborate and those we will not must be clear.   

Identities matter.  How we identify ourselves and others defines how we will relate to one another.  Is she like me?  If so, I can expect that cooperation will work out.  If not, I will need to be more wary. Determining whether someone is part of “my” group or someone else’s group is a fundamental human behavior.  Scientists distinguish between “in-groups” and “out-groups.”  Group identities give meaning to the words we, us, they and them.

We treat members of in-groups and out-groups differently.  I will cooperate freely with members of my in-group.   With out-groups, I will either ignore them or I will be vigilant for threats. 

However, in-groups are not free of risks; I might not be treated fairly.  I might have to carry the load of freeloaders or cheats might take too much of the rewards, leaving me with a smaller share.  I will have to keep an eye on the other members of my in-group.  But, they will all be watching me too.  So, I will have to demonstrate my loyalty to the group by adhering visibly to group norms.  Social scientists call this social control.

This brings me to a critical point. The boundaries of fundamental in-group identifications are not static.  The in-group that matters NOW! depends on what’s going on around me.  How context is framed influences how I navigate my identities.  

We can imagine that small societies have a small number of potential groups.  Think about a primitive hunter-gatherer tribe in a remote jungle.  The people as a whole will be one group.  The elders might be another.  It is very likely that labor will be divided by gender, so we should expect that men and women might be separate groups.  Children are probably yet another group.  Immediate families probably form another group.  Every person in that society would have at least four potential identities: family, child/adult, gender, and “the people.”

In a more complex society, we should expect new identities to enter play: specialty (such as trade or profession), political faction, sports, hobbies, race or ethnicity, region, religion, etcetera.  People in more complex societies will have larger inventories of in-group identities. 

I am a member of numerous in-groups.  Relatively speaking, I may be in-group wealthy.  I have the in-groups of my department, my rank, my profession, PFI, the Futures Working Group, my academic field, my university, professional futurists, etc.  I am a fan of my home town sports teams.  I can jump from in-group to in-group easily. 

Framing provides an opportunity for leverage. When faced with an issue or conflict, how we frame it can influence how other people process it.  Framing can be used to unite people, or to divide them.  Framing signals which group identity should be salient at the present.   

On the morning of September 11, 2001, Americans across the country watched planes crash and buildings burn and fall.  On that day and for some time after, the most salient group identity for most people in the US was “American.”

The dynamics of group identity impact the practice of policing.  It does so within our organizations and it impacts how police officers relate to the public.  It also impacts how members of the public relate to one another.  Consider:

  • How many group identities run in your organization?  Do you have distinctions between supervisors and officers? sworn and civilians? crime-fighters and slugs?
  •  How do group identities impact your officers’ relations with the public?  Do your officers have a strong “us vs. them” perspective?  Does the public see the police as outsiders?  How quickly do officers classify people as criminal?  Is it permanent? 
  • Are there strong group identities activating conflict among members of the public?  Are gangs evidence of an in-group poverty?  Do people who join gangs possess too few in-groups?  Are antiquated gender group identities driving domestic conflicts? 

It may not always be possible to control which group identities are active when police become involved in a situation.  But, the police can use the insight of group identities to manage these situations better.  By framing issues strategically, we can improve outcomes for all.   

For example, it is tempting to fall into “cops and robbers” thinking where the police stand in opposition to the perpetrators of crime.  This frame reinforces police group identity as an instrument of force.  But other group identities, such as race or ethnicity, may become activated on behalf of the perpetrator, shifting public support away from the police.  If in its communications, the police define the conflict as victim versus offender, group identities are activated differently.  The public aligns with the victim and the police identity remains part of the public, and to the extent there is distinction, takes on the character of rescuer.

We can use this group identity perspective for creative problem solving.  When we are faced with a problem, we can change our perception of the problem by viewing it from different in-group perspectives.  We can also test our solutions through various group lenses.  It’s a good idea to capture all the stakeholders, each of which is a group, and look at the problems and solutions from each perspective.

Understanding how identities work, within ourselves and in others, will make police more effective in the future.

Drones – Friends or Foes?

By Tony Hallett, CEO, Unmanned Response


American law enforcement is front and center in the heated national debate on privacy and drone warfare. There are formidable stakeholders with deep-rooted motivations on all sides of these emotional issues. Most police officers follow the headlines with casual interest, unaware that the outcome of these deliberations will have a dramatic impact on their profession in both the near- and long-term.

Technology improves quality of life, increases productivity, and sustains a safe homeland. The Industrial Revolution (1760 – 1840) introduced machines. The Digital Revolution (1960s – early 21st century) introduced software. Today, the nascent Robotics Revolution has introduced sophisticated unmanned systems, commonly referred to as drones. These remarkable machines are deployed on land (unmanned ground vehicles, or UGV), in the air (unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAV), and on/under water (unmanned maritime vehicles, or UMV).

 Drones come in all shapes and sizes. Costs range from $100 to $100,000,000+. The robotics industry experienced astonishing growth through the U.S. military investment in combat drones during the War on Terror. As a result, the market matured rapidly between 2002 and 2012. Drones will continue to evolve through nanotechnology and advanced materials science, leading to even greater specialization and lower prices.

 As military drone inventories reached optimal levels, manufacturers began looking for new markets. Domestically, the Federal Aviation Administration prohibits unmanned commercial flights until UAVs are safely integrated into the National Airspace System. That won’t happen until at least late 2015. Exceptions were granted to public safety agencies on the basis that some military applications could be useful to first responders.

 Before law enforcement could fully explore potential uses, two camps of opposition surfaced – those opposed to the use of armed drones in warfare and those concerned drones will compromise privacy. Overnight, the 800,000 police officers in the U.S., most of whom have never seen or even contemplated drones, were being castigated in the media for wanting to use UAVs to spy on and shoot Americans.

 A frenzied response in several jurisdictions led to far-reaching restrictions or prohibitions on drone use by law enforcement. While some drone legislation is reasonable, such as updates of existing privacy laws, most focuses on restricting police use. Little or no attention is given to vandals, criminals, and terrorists. Interestingly, most of this legislation does not mention unmanned ground or maritime vehicles.

 Is this a privacy issue, or is this just a privacy-from-police issue? Law enforcement officers indeed conduct surveillance of people and groups suspected of criminal activity. However, low-cost drones will appeal to people who secretly peruse their spouse’s cell phone, voyeurs who peep through bedroom windows, and paparazzi that crash celebrity weddings, all a far greater privacy threat than police.

 Is this a weapons-control issue, or is this just a police-weapons-control issue? Police officers occasionally must use lethal force. However, weaponized drones will appeal to psychotics, violent criminals, and international terrorists, all a far greater physical threat than police.

 The long-term implications are unnerving. Technology is broadly adopted long before security or misuse is contemplated. Computer technology was adopted by business and academia long before most police departments even owned a PC. The emergence of computer crime caught police agencies off guard. Digital forensics wasn’t a widely recognized criminal investigation discipline until after 2002.

 Cybercrime would not be the top security threat facing America today if computer technology had been adopted as an essential law enforcement tool and recognized as a dangerous instrument of crime early in the Digital Revolution. By recognizing drones can be a valued friend and a formidable opponent, law enforcement can avoid underestimating the long-term consequences. But does it want to? Will it be able to?

 Extensive integration of drones into police operations is not on the horizon. Can a police chief commit money and manpower to a drone program when politicians, at any time, impose new restrictions or even ban them completely? Conversely, police agencies are not prepared for the inevitable onslaught of drone crime. The bad guys are already equipping and deploying drones. Imagine a street cop’s reaction when a citizen reports being robbed by an “armed, talking UFO.”

 Law enforcement must get out in front of drone technology or it will be used against society with unimaginable consequences.  

 The International Associations of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and the Airborne Law Enforcement Association (ALEA) have provided early leadership in creating public awareness and the integration of robotic technology into public safety agencies. They could use some help. Some good starting points include: “IACP Seeks to Sway Public on Unmanned Aircraft” (, 09apr13); “A Vision of Crimes in the Future” (Marc Goodman, TEDGlobal, June, 2012); “Armed Drones Could Be Protected By the Second Amendment” (Jason Koebler, US News & World Report, 21may13); and the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) website.


Improving the Handling of Calls for Service

Since at least the 1930s law enforcement’s standard method for handling calls for service has been a linear method in which an informant calls a dispatcher who then listens to the informant and makes a decision on the nature of the call and who best to handle it before assigning it to a deployed patrol unit who then drives to the location verifies the information and takes appropriate action.

 Given the ubiquitous nature and advanced capabilities of modern smart phones, portable computers, WiFi, video capture and transmission and the like, how could the law enforcement community exploit these technologies and increase the effectiveness and efficiency for calls for service?

Sid Heal

The Federal Grant Machine


Privacy in the Digital World


A Word from Chief G.M. Cox


The Launch