Thinking about starting a drone program at your agency? Are you debating whether or not it would be a good fit for your officers or deputies? Here are 6 of the most common questions that law enforcement agencies should ask when considering implementation of a drone program for their agency:

Question: Why should law enforcement introduce a drone program at their agency?

Answer: At a scene or potential scene, drones offer the same perspective as a manned aircraft, such as a helicopter, but at a fraction of the cost and with little risk of personal injury.

Question: How can agencies best secure public buy-in for a drone program? How should they get buy-in from their own personnel?

Answer: Public apprehension stems primarily from the unregulated use of drones. Therefore, transparency should be emphasized at every step. A clear governance and public records policy concerning flight plans and completed missions is essential to gaining and keeping public trust, as it promotes transparency and can ease citizens’ concerns about possible privacy violations. To gain trust from within your agency, it’s critical to demonstrate how the aircraft increases situational awareness. For example, in disaster scenes, major accidents and suspect searches where visibility is low or the area is too expansive, applications such as FLIR thermal or night vision cameras give drones a substantial edge over what a human can see or cover.

Question: How can unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) be used as investigative tools?

Answer: When investigating scenes on the ground, especially natural disasters or large-scale accidents, perspective is limited. From the air, you may observe other factors such as land contours that can contribute to a better understanding and analysis of the scene that is otherwise unavailable from a ground-level inspection. In cases where suspects run through an area, drones can quickly scan for any items the suspect may have dropped or concealed.

Question: How can UAVs be used for patrolling? Could they replace officers on the street?

Answer: While UAVs are not currently deployed as routine patrol devices – mainly due to battery power and limited flight time – special events such as parades, political rallies and community events are good examples of potential use cases for drone-powered patrol. In these situations, UAVs are able to see changes in crowd movement or detect individuals on rooftops overlooking the event location. During evening operations, UAVs could patrol areas using night vision and FLIR thermal cameras to detect lost or missing persons. Instead of replacing the need for officers during these types of operations, drones can help multiply the efforts of officers on the street.

Forest smoke

Question: How can law enforcement agencies develop a drone usage policy? Are there any barriers they’d need to overcome?

Answer: A well-developed policy clearly outlines issues around the public interest and logs all activities to help satisfy public records requests while ensuring the program is used honestly and correctly. A good policy addresses unique permission requirements. For example, some communities impose restrictions relative to air space around airports, but these are easily managed with proper planning and permissions from the FAA. Additional policy rules should cover procedures for lost UAVs or downed UAVs, including local legislation that would make it illegal to tamper with public safety UAVs or disrupt communications between the UAV and agency.

Question: How difficult is flying a UAV? Will personnel need to get a remote pilot’s license?

Answer: Depending on the model and brand, most UAVs require little training or skill to fly as they continue to become more autonomous. While most individuals will not be required to obtain a remote pilot’s license, it is a good idea to have this level of certification for its educational value. Because a pilot certification offers a cost-effective way to gain a broad range of useful information about the regulations and best practices for flying in a public environment, agencies considering a drone program should establish criteria for educational requirements.

Learn more about what it would take for widespread drone use to become a reality for law enforcement here.