June 15, 2023

How Police Use Drones While on Patrol

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police hand launch x2

It’s easy to justify a drone program when you consider one fact alone: police work is evolving. With police departments facing officer shortages, budget cuts, and a more technologically advanced public, evolution is a necessity to promote community safety.

Drones offer the opportunity to meet all of those demands and pressures, while improving operational and departmental efficiency, increasing officer safety, and reducing costs.

By showing how drones are used by police– especially if every uniformed officer were to have a drone in their patrol vehicle – you’ll be able to justify funding for your drone program.

How Police Can Use Drones to Enhance Community Safety

More and more police departments are adding drone programs (approximately 5,000 departments nationwide).

This number is ever increasing, not just due to the boosts from COVID relief funds, federal grants, military surplus transfers, and civil asset forfeitures, but because of their many advantageous uses on the force.

If we take a look at just one state’s use of drone technology, we get a small glimpse into law enforcement’s use of drones.

In the year 2020, law enforcement drones were deployed for:

  • Collecting information at crime scenes
  • Road crash investigations and accident scene reconstruction
  • Event security and preparation
  • Disaster response
flooded waters

While those are all exceptional employments, the uses for drones in law enforcement aren’t limited. Consider the following applications.

Using police drones as a force multiplier

Most towns and cities need more boots on the ground. Yet, it’s harder today to find new recruits, takes a lot of time to get them on the force, and costs the department far more.

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When an officer deploys a drone, they’re able to act as several officers, providing overwatch and surveillance where they might otherwise have to wait for air support or more officers to fulfill those roles.

Preventing threats to officer safety

By sending autonomous drones into dangerous situations ahead of officers, you’re protecting the safety of your force.

Law enforcement drones are capable of going inside and between buildings, operating in tight and hard to reach areas. For instance, if a suspect were hiding down an alley and behind dumpsters, you could send a drone ahead to capture an aerial view of the situation before sending a team around the corner.

Event security and large crowd situations

Having the manpower to properly secure an event isn’t always easy, and can pose significant costs to the city. It can also be incredibly dangerous, as witnessed at events such as the Boston Marathon and the Las Vegas shooting at Harvest Music Festival.

skydio x2 overwatch

Even without large and volatile situations, small infractions in an event are often hard to manage. UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) have the ability to monitor large areas at once.

But they’re not just useful in coordinated events. The Bay Area is increasingly facing the issue of illegal sideshows, in which large gatherings of people use their vehicles to block intersections and take areas of the city hostage at night.

Instead of sending dozens of officers into a potentially dangerous situation for the public and the officers themselves – and to avoid further property damage during a chase – officers could deploy a drone.

The drone would identify license plates and individuals at a safe distance, and officers can make arrests, issue tickets, and impound vehicles later.

Crash and crime scene investigation

Where once investigators were relegated to using cameras and video at crime scenes and crash sites, they’re now able to use drones to reconstruct the scene with multiple angles and three-dimensional models.

crash 3d scan skydio model

Where once investigators were relegated to using cameras and video at crime scenes and crash sites, they’re now able to use drones to reconstruct the scene with multiple angles and three-dimensional models.
This overview helps officers map the entire scene and collect evidence they may have otherwise missed, and performs this task in a fraction of the time.

Pursuit and searches for missing people

If a suspect runs through a building, down an alley, over a fence, and into the woods, officers will have a harder time apprehending them.

skydio thermal suspects people

There have been instances where suspects flee from open windows or back doors, discarding evidence or identifiable clothing along the way. Without the drone, suspects would be difficult to pursue effectively and safely. With aerial surveillance of the scene, officers suspects and quickly collect any discarded weapons or drugs.

skydio x2 search and rescue

The advantage extends to searches for missing people, whether they’re suspects or not. Some areas are challenging to search due to the terrain, conditions, brush density, and other factors.

Drones are capable of searching wide areas using thermal imaging, quickly finding missing citizens even in the harshest areas. As was seen in this search for a missing man separated from his family and stuck chest deep in marshlands.

The benefits of drone technology in security services and office patrol

The benefits of drone use in law enforcement go far beyond their innumerable uses, force multiplication, and risk reduction, extending to cost savings and greater accountability for the department and community at large.

Democratizing air support

While departments may use seizure funds, grants, and military surplus to fill out the gaps in their ranks and be prepared for every type of situation, there is room for operational and budgetary efficiency.

Helicopters, for instance, cost around $5k -$10k per mission. A Skydio X2E costs just $20,561 for 3 whole years of Skydio Autonomy Enterprise. While you’re still likely to keep a helicopter in your department toolkit, adding drones is a helpful way to have overwatch on calls that would be too low-priority to deploy as expensive a resource as a helicopter .

As budget and staffing pressures continue, and public concerns evolve, so must law enforcement agencies. Remotely piloted unmanned aircraft systems offer departments a cost effective solution to address these pressures, while improving officer and public safety.

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