Law Enforcement Drones: Presenting 21st Century Risk Questions


By: Wayne S. Melnick

With the recent news reports that commercial sales companies such as are beginning to use drones to deliver packages ordered online, governmental insurers might want to turn their attention to the use of drones in law enforcement and the questions of what risk the use these drones bring with them.  There is no doubt that the use of drones by law enforcement is on the rise.  However, there is no all-inclusive set of standards that would appear to be applicable as to when and how it is proper to use drones in law enforcement.  However, in a recently-issued report, the United States Department of Justice via the Office of the Inspector General, is recommending that the Department of Justice consider enacting guidelines for such use.
That, however, brings the next set of questions to the forefront.  What are the insurance risks that go along with using such drones?  While there are certain obvious risks (property damage and personal injury) that could come along with the negligent usage of this equipment, certain other risks need to be considered especially from a coverage standpoint.  What about the citizen who alleges that the drone’s pilot illegally spied through her bedroom window thereby violating her Constitutional right to privacy?  Is this alleged civil rights violation covered under the government’s insurance policy?  At some point, it is safe to assume that law enforcement will begin using armed drones for crime suppression and not merely use unarmed drones for surveillance.  If the armed drone is used to fire upon a suspected crime perpetrator, and that person (or his estate’s representatives) sue a claim based on excessive force, is such a claim covered under the government’s policy as currently written?
Any time there is new technology that is emerging, it is imperative for both the insurer and the insured to review their current policy language to determine what is, and just as importantly, what is not, included in coverage.  Drones and the use thereof by law enforcement are just the latest example of such a technology that should make all involved pause and perform such a review.