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Cattaraugus County Sheriffs Office General Order for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS).

  • Policy: O97
  • By Order Of: Sheriff Timothy S. Whitcomb
  • Effective: July 2023
  • Amended: January 2023

Updated: 2023-01-03

Purpose and Scope

The purpose of this policy is to establish guidelines for the use of an unmanned aerial system (UAS) and for the storage, retrieval and dissemination of images and data captured by the UAS. sUAS policies and procedures will be available on the Sheriff's Office website and will remain available, in the most current format for the duration of any sUAS program implemented by the Sheriff.

Policy Statement

The Cattaraugus County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) owns and operates a drone to provide for the protection and safety of the citizens served by the agency, and for the protection and safety of public safety personnel, by providing a safe and efficient aerial observation perspective during public safety incidents and/or law enforcement operations.   Drone operations will be conducted in a safe, professional fashion.


Drone (UAS) - An unmanned aircraft of any type that is capable of sustaining directed flight, whether preprogrammed or remotely controlled (commonly referred to as an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or drone), and all of the supporting or attached systems designed for gathering information through imaging, recording or any other means.

Remote Pilot in Charge (RPIC) - Shall mean the pilot actually flying the UAS, or charged with flying the UAS

Chief Pilot - The UAS Program Coordinator, to be named by the Sheriff


The use of the UAS potentially involves privacy considerations. Absent a warrant or exigent circumstances, operators and observers shall adhere to FAA altitude regulations and shall not intentionally record or transmit images of any location where a person would have a reasonable expectation of privacy (e.g., residence, yard, enclosure). Operators and observers shall take reasonable precautions to avoid inadvertently recording or transmitting images of areas where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. Reasonable precautions can include, for example, deactivating or turning imaging devices away from such areas or persons during UAS operations. UAS-recorded data will not be collected, disseminated or retained solely for the purpose of monitoring activities protected by the U.S. Constitution, such as the First Amendment's protections of religion, speech, press, or assembly. Collection, use, dissemination or retention of UAS-recorded data should not be based solely on individual characteristics (e.g. race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, age or gender) which is a violation of law.  UAS-collected information that is not maintained in a system of records covered by the Privacy Act shall not be disseminated outside of the agency unless dissemination is required by law, or fulfills an authorized purpose and complies with agency requirements.

Chief Pilot

The Sheriff will appoint a UAS Program Coordinator or Chief Pilot who will be responsible for the management of the UAS program. The Chief Pilot will ensure that oversight procedures for the agencies' UAS use, including audits or assessments, comply with existing agency policies and regulations; and enforce policies and procedures, or confirm that policies and procedures are in place, which provide meaningful oversight of individuals who have access to sensitive information (including any PII) collected using UAS: and will have the following additional responsibilities:

  • Coordinating the FAA Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) application process and ensuring that the COA is current.
  • Ensuring that all authorized operators and required observers have completed all required FAA and office-approved training in the operation, applicable laws, policies and procedures regarding use of the UAS.
  • Developing uniform protocol for submission and evaluation of requests to deploy a UAS, including urgent requests made during ongoing or emerging incidents. Deployment of a UAS shall require the authorization of the Sheriff or the authorized designee, depending on the type of mission. Such designees shall include Sheriff's Office Command Staff.
  • Developing protocol for conducting criminal investigations involving a UAS, including documentation of time spent monitoring a subject.
  • Developing an operational protocol governing the deployment and operation of a UAS including, but not limited to, safety oversight, use of visual observers, establishment of lost link procedures and secure communication with air traffic control facilities.
  • Developing a protocol for fully documenting all missions.
  • Developing a UAS inspection, maintenance and record-keeping protocol to ensure continuing airworthiness of a UAS, up to and including its overhaul or life limits.
  • Developing protocols to ensure that all data intended to be used as evidence are accessed, maintained, stored and retrieved in a manner that ensures its integrity as evidence, including strict adherence to chain of custody requirements. Electronic trails, including encryption, authenticity certificates and date and time stamping, shall be used as appropriate to preserve individual rights and to ensure the authenticity and maintenance of a secure evidentiary chain of custody.
  • Developing protocols that ensure retention and purge periods are maintained in accordance with established records retention schedules.
  • Facilitating law enforcement access to images and data captured by the UAS.
  • Recommending program enhancements, particularly regarding safety and information security.
  • Ensuring that established protocols are followed by monitoring and providing periodic reports on the program to the Sheriff.
  • Conducting an annual collaboration on and review of UAS policy and procedure     involving pilots and the Training Coordinator/Accreditation Manager
  • Compiling an annual report of UAS missions for release to the public
  • It shall be the responsibility of the Sheriff or his designee to publish an annual report to be posted on the department webpage and any other means available to the public.
  • Regularly review data-sharing agreements and policies, data use policies, and record management policies applicable to UAS to ensure they conform to applicable laws, regulations, and policies.
  • Oversight and audit procedure of UAS missions conducted. Such procedure shall include:
    • Ensure that oversight procedures for agencies' UAS use, including audits or assessments, comply with existing agency policies and regulations; and ensure policies and procedures, in place, are followed to provide meaningful oversight of individuals who have access to sensitive information including any PII collected using UAS.
    • At least bi-monthly evaluations by the Sheriff or his designee (non-pilot)
    • Spot check of UAS video data
    • Check other provided mission data to ensure compliance with policy, procedure and FAA regulations

Use of UAS

Only authorized operators who have completed the required training shall be permitted to operate the UAS.

Use of vision enhancement technology (e.g., thermal and other imaging equipment not generally available to the public) is permissible in viewing areas only where there is no protectable privacy interest or when in compliance with a search warrant or court order. In all other instances, legal counsel should be consulted.

UAS operations should only be conducted during daylight hours and a UAS should not be flown over populated areas without FAA approval. UAS operations should only be conducted during night time hours with FAA approval.

Authorized Missions

UAS missions may be conducted:

  • Where there are specific and articulable grounds to believe that the drone will collect evidence relating to a specific instance of criminal wrongdoing or if the drone will intrude upon reasonable expectations of privacy, where the Sheriff's Office has obtained a warrant based on probable cause,or where the Sheriff's Office has obtained the consent of an appropriate party, considering residency, ownership and privacy interests.
  • Where there is a geographically confined, time -limited emergency situation in which particular individuals lives are at risk, including but not limited to a fire, hostage crisis, or person lost in the wilderness.
  • For reasonable non-law enforcement purposes where privacy will not be substantially affected such as geological inspections, environmental surveys, infrastructure inspections, and where the data will not be used for secondary law enforcement purposes.
  • For training purposes.
  • UAS will monitor and assess critical infrastructure and provide emergency incident situational awareness.


UAS missions may be initiated with approval of the Shift Supervisor. In the event that the UAS team will be comprised of one or more members currently working, the approval of the Shift Supervisor is also necessary in determining what resources will be assigned to the mission.  The shift supervisor will have discretion to call in members who are not currently working for the purposes of completing the mission.

All UAS missions involving an investigation into suspected criminal activity or UAS missions conducted out of county shall require at least a two person team, one RPIC and one spotter or observer with the understanding that said responsibilities may reverse as an incident becomes prolonged. For this reason every effort should be made to have two pilots comprise the team. However, with approval of the Shift Supervisor or Chief Pilot a non-pilot member can perform as the observer as practicable.

UAS missions that appear non-criminal in nature should be conducted by at least a two person team but may be flown by a single pilot with the approval of the Shift Supervisor or Chief Pilot.

Any RPIC may refuse to fly for any reason and shall not be countermanded by a supervisor or commanding officer. Reasons for refusing flight may include but are not limited to weather conditions, safety concerns, manpower limitations or FAA regulations and possible violations. It is a goal of the Sheriff's Office to provide UAS Mutual Aid to outside agencies when requested and practicable. The Sheriff shall establish policies or procedures to authorize the use of UAS assistance in support of Federal,State, local tribal or territorial government operations. Certain Mutual Aid Agreements or Memorandums of Agreement or other protocols may become established which may eliminate the need for approval of certain individual requests. Any mutual aid request from an outside agency will be deferred to a Shift Supervisor who will confirm the approval of the Sheriff or his designee before authorizing any such mission or deferred directly to the Undersheriff if a shift supervisor is not present or available. Once approved Mutual Aid missions will be conducted in accordance with Federal and State law.

Storage and Retention of Media

All downloaded media shall be stored in a secure manner with access restricted to authorized persons. A recording needed as evidence shall be copied into a suitable medium and logged into evidence in accordance with established evidence procedures. All actions taken with respect to retention of media shall be appropriately documented. The type of video or photographic surveillance technology employed and the manner in which recordings are used and stored will affect retention periods. Recordings or photographic evidence related to a criminal investigation shall be retained al least until the disposition of any criminal case and/or as long as the possibility of civil litigation relative to the matter exists. Video or photographic data not related to a criminal matter shall be maintained for a minimum of 180 days. Information collected using sUAS that may contain PII shall not be retained for more than 180 days unless retention of the information is determined to be necessary to an authorized mission of the retaining agency, is maintained in a system of records covered by the Privacy Act or is required to be retained for a longer period by any other applicable law or regulation.

Evidentiary Integrity

All downloaded and retained media relative to a criminal investigation shall be treated in the same manner as other evidence. Media shall be accessed, maintained, stored and retrieved in a manner that ensures its integrity as evidence. Electronic trails, including encryption, digital masking, of innocent or uninvolved persons to preserve anonymity, authenticity certificates, and date and time stamping shall be used as appropriate to preserve individual rights and ensure authenticity and maintenance of a secure evidentiary chain of command.

Prohibited Use

The UAS video surveillance equipment shall not be used:

  • To target a person based solely on actual or perceived characteristics such as race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, economic status, age, cultural group, or disability.
  • To harass, intimidate, or discriminate against any individual or group.
  • To conduct personal business of any type. The UAS shall not be weaponized.

Public Notice of UAS Operations

The Cattaraugus County Sheriff’s Office will update its website and Sheriff APP to reflect its current policy on its use of UAS(s) on an ongoing basis, and will annually provide a general summary of its UAS operations during the previous year, including a brief description of the types and categories of operations conducted provided that such information does not endanger public safety or interfere with public safety operations. The County will inform the public through its website to provide notice to the public regarding where and how the UAS(s) are authorized to operate.

Personnel Complaints

Personnel complaints include any allegation of misconduct or improper job performance that, if true, would constitute a violation of policy or federal, state or local law, policy or rule. Personnel complaints may be generated internally or by the public.

Inquiries about conduct or performance that, if true, would not violate office policy or federal, state or local law, policy or rule may be handled informally by a supervisor and shall not be considered a personnel complaint. Such inquiries generally include clarification regarding policy, procedures or the response to specific incidents by the Office.

The following applies to the source of complaints:

  • Individuals from the public may make complaints in any form, including in writing, by email, in person or by telephone.
  • Any member becoming aware of alleged misconduct shall immediately notify a supervisor.
  • Supervisors shall initiate a complaint based upon observed misconduct or receipt from any source alleging misconduct that, if true, could result in disciplinary action.
  • Anonymous and third-party complaints should be accepted and investigated to the extent that sufficient information is provided.
  • Tort claims and lawsuits may generate a personnel complaint.
  • All complaints will be courteously accepted by any office member and promptly given to theappropriate supervisor. Although written complaints are preferred, a complaint may also be filedorally, either in person or by telephone. Such complaints will be directed to a supervisor. If asupervisor is not immediately available to take an oral complaint, the receiving member shall obtain contact information sufficient for the supervisor to contact the complainant.
  • Although not required, complainants should be encouraged to file complaints in person so that proper identification, signatures, photographs or physical evidence may be obtained if necessary.
  • Supervisors shall ensure that all formal complaints are documented on a complaint form. The supervisor shall ensure that the nature of the complaint is defined as clearly as possible.
  • Allegations of misconduct will be administratively investigated following Sheriff’s Office Policy A33 (Internal Affairs Investigations)