Police Drones: 2017 and the Future

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camera drone used by policeDrones are becoming an ever growing commodity around the world, not just for civilians but for law enforcement as well.

Law enforcement around the world have been using camera drones for some time, but they have recently just gotten extremely popular and now you see more and more fire departments and police headquarters using them for conducting investigations and more.

As a civilian living in a world where drone use is becoming more common, not only by other civilians but law enforcement as well, you’re probably alert and concerned about your privacy– as you should be.

Keep in mind though, that the drones that police use can be used to save lives, and keep officers safe. They can find active shooters from the air, much cheaper and more discreetly than using helicopters. The can use surveillance on a completely different level than before, and it is also extremely useful in Search and Rescue operations where you might be looking for missing people, kids in the woods or wilderness etc.

It is an extremely useful technology for the police, but since the technology is so new, the laws around its use is often unclear.


Since drone usage has peaked, law enforcement use of it has as well. The most common questions people ask are one of the two “Do police use drones to spy?” and “Can police fly drones at night?”. The first questions answer, according to US News, is yes. The second questions answer isn’t a clear cut yes or no but there are a lot of videos going around the internet implying that police drones at night are becoming more common.

Not all law enforcement agencies have access to camera drones. However, the ones that do have requested permission from the Federal Aviation Administration to use their drones for “surveillance” purposes.

With that being said, only 14 out of the 50 states require law enforcement to get a warrant to use camera drones for surveillance reasons. Members in the House and Senate proposed bills in the previous Congress requiring all 50 states to require a warrant to do any type of surveillance, but the bills died out by the end of the year.

In the remaining states that don’t require a warrant for surveillance drone use, it’s pretty much a free for all and there’s really nothing stopping law enforcement from using drones with cameras except the Constitution.


California is one of the many states that do not require a warrant for surveillance drone use for law enforcement. Because of this, much of what is legal and illegal regarding police drones is still up in the air and can not be determined at this point. However, in 2016 the California legislature purposed the governor with six bills regarding drones and their use, two of which he signed and the other four he vetoed. You can read more at the link.

spy drone


Although police drone surveillance has become a privacy concern for some of the general public, law enforcement first started using drones for non-surveillance purposes and generally only used the drones in situations to enforce the law and protect lives.

By using camera drones, law enforcement is protecting valuable resources such as tax dollars and police officers time. They have since gained more knowledge on certain issues that otherwise would not have been possible without the use of police drones.

Police drone surveillance has a lot of benefits, but like anything, it also poses some cons.


  1. Surveillance – This job is extremely time consuming and staking someone out fully could take weeks to months to do successfully. Not only that, the chances of you getting seen while staking the person out is higher than law enforcement using a drone. Because surveillance is so extensive, it has the ability to take time out of other crucial investigations.
  2. Active Shooter – Sometimes, police officers are faced with threats like an active shooter situation. These threats are one of the most serious and are looked at by law enforcement as incredibly dangerous. Often, active shooters try to hide from officers so it’s difficult provide a vantage point on the suspect. Drones provide a great aerial view not only of the shooter, but of the surrounding landscape making it easier for law enforcement to move in and take him down.
  3. Search and Rescue – Search and Rescue missions generally take a lot of time, require extensive man power, and even with all of this they’re not always successful. People can only walk so far and cover so much land. With the help of drones with cameras, law enforcement can comb through more areas quicker, and provide themselves with an aerial view of the surrounding landscape which could make the mission not only go faster, but also save time and a life.
  4. Crowd Monitoring – It’s known that large venues such as concerts, parades, and sporting events require a lot of manpower to keep crowds under control and safe. Often, police offers are spread out and stuck standing around in the venue basically just watching the surrounding crowd and not really “seeing” anything. If video drones are used, more area would be covered and they would be able to lock on and zoom in to key areas of interest. By having drones accessible during these types of venues, it saves law enforcement valuable time.
  5. By using miniature shoulder drones, police officers can have an extra backup in the field. Amazon recently got a patent for an unmanned aerial vehicle assistant that would make it safer for police officers patrolling alone. This mini drone could run plates, monitor situations and use facial recognition to aid the patrolling officer or officers. The mini drone would be extra small since the processor would be located on its docking station.


  1. Privacy- There is a lot of controversy stemming from the use of police drones with camera because they cause the general public to worry about their overall privacy. It can cause quite a scandal if you’re minding your business in your own backyard and you’re unwillingly caught on tape.
  2. Aerial Disturbance/Crashes- Even with the most skilled pilot, drones can crash and cause a lot of damage to the surrounding area and cause a disturbance to other aircraft in the sky.
  3. Security- Whether it’s a police drone or regular civilian drone, they are still electronics and are able to be hacked into. By hacking into a drone, especially a law enforcement one, it could expose important files or data and cause the drone to malfunction which is incredibly dangerous especially when being flown.
  4. Public Perception- In the past few years, law enforcement trust have come into question and lots of things have made headlines about officers being unfair or just bad people in general. Now more than ever law enforcement is under massive scrutiny by the public so using drones could possibly make this situation worse.

Jesse Young