One of the fastest-growing trends in law
enforcement technology is the addition of unmanned aerial sytems
(UAS)—commonly referred to as "drones"—to the vehicle fleet.
really just recreational "toys," drones have taken on serious roles in a
variety of businesses. In farming, they can survey vast areas of crops.
Drones have become vital in the film-making business, saving production
studios the cost of renting helicopters.
Drones are even being considered for delivery services from online stores and local restaurants.
police, drones are ideally suited for search-and rescue missions,
collecting reconnaissance data of a scene where a wanted suspect is
thought to be hiding, and photographing/mapping crime scenes, or the
scene of a natural or man-made disaster in which toxins may be present. A
drone can be flown into the window of a residence where a gunman has
taken hostages to surveille the area before SWAT team members make
entry. A drone can be flown over a public protest that devolves into a
disturbance/riot to identify the people causing the mayhem amidst the
There has been an explosion of manufacturers getting into
the drone market specifically designed for police missions. The market
is crowded with choices—tough choices—for police commanders to decide
upon. Here are several things to consider when making the decision to
add a drone to your agency's capabilities.
Setting Mission Parameters
do you want your drone to do for you? There are several "general
purpose" designs but there are also models available that are
specifically designed for certain missions. Commanders should come to
agreement on the scope of the use of the asset, outline a plan, and then
begin contacting manufacturers to see what they have to offer.
Developing Policies and Procedures
you've determined what you want out of your drone program, you must
then develop polices and procedures to add to the long row of three-ring
binders in the squad room and at the training academy. There are model
policies available from a variety of sources—from the IACP to the NTOA
and even some state legislatures.
Getting Licensed by the FAA
like your 16-year-old kid cannot just hop in your personally owed
vehicle and go for a cruise without first getting their driver's license
from the DMV, police agencies cannot just launch a drone program with
out getting clearance from the FAA. Also, any officers who are going to
be operating the system need to be licensed by the FAA. The FAA has a
special office—the Law Enforcement Assistance Program (LEAP)—specifically set up to address questions and concerns for commanders who are creating a drone program.
Purchase Price and Operational Cost
is a no-brainer. With police budgets in so many places being
cut—"defunded"—the purchase price and expected operational costs are a
vital element for command staff to consider when adding a drone to the
agency's assets. There are drones that are relatively simple and
inexpensive, and there are options that when you look at the price tag
your eyes might pop out of your head. Remember also to look carefully at
your opportunities for receiving grant funds. If you have access to a
great grant-writer, put them to work on matching your interest in
launching the operation with programs at the COPS Office or elsewhere.
Training, Training, Training
but not least, your officers need to be well trained—the operators will
of course be receiving training in order to receive the FAA
certificate. But every officer in the agency should be trained in how to
leverage the aircrafts' capabilities, and remain in compliance with the
policies and procedures you wrote at the beginning of the process. It
would also be a good idea to have an instructor at the police academy
also get their drone pilot's license, so they are conversant with the
do's and don'ts of drone operation for public safety.
are fantastic machines. They have capabilities other air assets don't
have. They will never replace the police rescue helicopter because they
don't the lifting power to pull an injured person in a basket out of the
woods and fly them to a nearby hospital. But they can fly beneath the
canopy of that wooded area in search of the victim, locate that
individual, and guide that police helicopter to the location.
use of drones is growing, and as your agency begins to consider joining
the trend, please consider some of these little pieces of information
before taking to the skies.
Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000
articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are
safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing
Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital
Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement
Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the
California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the
Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).