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Which Drones Do the Police Use?

11 mins
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Police departments are always looking for ways to keep up with the times. The development of technology has facilitated the use of drones in law enforcement and has time and again proven to be very successful. Anyone who watches police TV shows has probably seen a drone or two used by the police in a high-speed chase. But the curious want to know, how realistic is this, and which drones do police use?

The most common drone models used by police departments in the US include DJI Mavic Pro, Matrice 300 RTK, and DJI Phantom 4 Pro. These drones are used because of their security, reliability, ease of use, and quality real-time videos. The police also use swarms of mini-drones to enter homes.

With that said, let us take a look at some of the police work a drone might be especially well suited for, and help to do quickly, safely, and precisely.

What do the police use drones for? #

The police utilize unmanned aerial vehicles for various purposes as a means of aiding in the work of law enforcement. The use of drones by the police can be dated back to the mid-2000s. The main objective of the use of drones by the police is to protect and serve the public. The following are some of the common ways the police use UAVs:

Mapping cities #

Police departments may use drones to map out cities to assess the neighborhoods of a metropolis for several purposes. The drones can analyze regions where storm damage has occurred to identify the extent of the damage. 

They may also be used to investigate crime scene areas, and or pictures of sites before and after images of natural disasters. Drones are faster and more efficient for this use, as opposed to hiring helicopters to do the job.

Chasing suspects #

Drones have frequently and successfully been used to chase down suspects and fugitives. When a suspect takes off to the roof, it may present difficulty in identifying his location. However, drones offer the police eyes in the sky that can provide critical intelligence, enabling them to position themselves appropriately on the ground and track the suspect down. 

Due to the small size of a drone, it is very discreet and can assist in ascertaining the types of weapons a suspect may be carrying to help police officers take the appropriate measures. 

Crime scene investigation #

The police use drones in the investigation of crime scenes in various ways. The drones may be able to retrieve evidence from places that are difficult to reach. They also provide surveillance of areas with 3D images in a matter of minutes. The UAVs can provide lighting in low lit areas and obtain videos of areas being investigated in a matter of minutes, and from a perspective that can’t be reached from the ground, often providing a better holistic view of what happened in a crime.

3D reconstruction of accidents #

The police send out drones to capture and collect evidence from angles that are unreachable even by helicopters. Drones provide an advantage as they can take pictures multiple times in minutes and do not block the traffic.

Traffic flow management #

Police departments use drones in the management of traffic during rush hour and in crowded areas. The police on the ground may have difficulty assessing the cause and dynamics of traffic congestion. But drones easily solve this problem since they can travel airborne without any interference to determine the causes of traffic slowdowns. This information can then be relayed to the traffic units ahead so that they can make the best decisions to enhance the flow of traffic.

Search and rescue #

Police commonly use drones to search for missing persons and animals. Drones can be fitted with thermal cameras that pick up on thermal emission, which is especially useful at night or in heavy undergrowth. 

Drones are instrumental in searching for children who wander from their homes or lost hikers in the hills and mountains. The police also use drones when tracking down victims of accidents that have been displaced from the accident sites.

Natural disaster relief #

There are numerous difficulties for ground units to be able to access a site after disasters such as hurricanes and tornadoes. Human-crewed aircrafts such as helicopters often face the danger of high winds or heavy rains and may risk the lives of the police and the pilots. 

Law enforcement agencies often opt for drones when surveying affected areas and identifying individuals that may need assistance. Due to their fast flight speeds and excellent cameras, drones can quickly identify injured people more rapidly than ground units. They may also supply food, medicine, and other supplies before the ground units are able to reach the affected areas.

Which drones do police use most? #

For most police work, drones with high-quality real-time video, user-friendly operation, reliability, and high-security features are the most preferred. 

Here are some of the drone brands and types typically favored by police forces:

Product name 
Price Range 

DJI Inspire 2
– Sense and avoid features to help prevent collisions– Efficient workflow– Spotlight pro– Compatible with 5.2K gimbal cameras– Intelligent flight modes and object sensing ability to a range of 0-16 feet (0-5m)– Smart return to home– Can operate in temperatures ranging from -20 to 40 degrees Celsius
$ 3,250 to $4,000

Yuneec Typhoon H
– Can withstand wind speeds up to 35mph– Rotor fail-safe mode– Intelligent autonomous flight modes– Intel RealSense Collision Avoidance– Up to 30 minutes flight time– Up to 1 mile Wi-Fi range– Captures videos in 4K and photos in 20 mp– 360-degree image and video capture– 3 axis sensor-driven image stabilization
$ 1,000 to $1,500

X8 Long Range Surveillance Drone
– Flight time of over one hour– Potent batteries– Can take videos and pictures from a much longer range than most other drones– Has cargo drop and tracking objects
$ 2,200 to $ 2,300

DJI Mavic Pro
– OcuSync transmission technology with the ability to stream videos at 1080p full HD– Autonomous flight mode that can see objects from as far away as 50 feet (15m) – Flight time of about 27 minutes
$ 1,800 to $ 2,100

DJI Phantom 4 Pro
– Camera with a 20 MP sensor, with a 1-inch Megapixel CMOS sensor– Five direction obstacle sensing– Potent video processing of H.264 4kat 60 fps or H.265 4k at 30 fps, both with 100 Mbps bitrate– Flight time of approximately 30 minutes
$ 2,000 to $ 2,200

How to tell if a drone is a police drone? #

Law enforcement drones may appear at first glance to be similar to other drones. But police drones are particularly fitted with extensive special features to enable them to provide safety to the public. 

Police drones are commonly outfitted with thermal and zoom/optical cameras which are particularly useful when monitoring crime scenes at long (and safer) distances. A quick deployable camera is helpful in situations where the police require surveillance before accessing risky areas. They are used to gather necessary intelligence before moving in.

Unlike typical commercial drones that have been restricted to fly within certain airspace, often not within cities, police drones don’t have the same limitations. A police drone enjoys the freedom of flying above the city to monitor people, traffic flow, or even in chasing down a suspect. **If you see a drone hovering over a crowded event, it’s likely a police drone. **

Since search and rescue is one of the uses of police drones, they have much more advanced search tools than typical drones. Police drones can carry heavy loads and fly for a long time. Some drones used by the police can even stay airborne for up to an hour. To add to that, police drones usually use night vision to enable them to work even in the dark. 

What to do if a police drone is following you #

The police, military, and the federal government may deploy drones for various purposes, sometimes including routine surveillance. A local authority may utilize drones to find or follow people in multiple scenarios, such as following up on drug deals or tracking down suspects. 

If you are walking or in a moving vehicle and notice that a police drone seems to be following you, there is no need to panic. One thing to know is that the police are legally barred from using images captured by the drone to identify persons when lacking a warrant to do so. However, your response may raise suspicion, so it’s important to respond appropriately. Here’s what to do:

1. Do not run away #

In a situation where the police are tracking down a suspect related to a crime, and you happen to notice that the law enforcement drone is following you, do not run away. Doing that might raise suspicion to the police, making you seem to be a criminal and causing them to alert ground units to track you. 

2. Do not try to hide #

Trying to hide in a situation such as one where you are being followed by UAVs also raises suspicion that may make one seem like a criminal. If a drone is simply being used to search for a missing person, and you are seen trying to hide, that would raise suspicion and sound the alarm for the police to do a further investigation.

3. Stop movement  #

When being followed by a police drone, it is wise to stop movement. If the drone is being utilized to track down criminals using facial recognition programing, a sharp image will identify the criminal. Therefore, if you stop moving and allow the drone to get a clear image of your face, it may cease following you and move on to survey other areas or persons.

4. Go about your business #

Police drones are known to follow people at times. If you are running errands and need to be at a certain, do not change your pace, just go about your duties. If at all there is a need for the police to access you, they would do so. If not, (as is most likely the case) delaying your schedule to find out why they are following you is just a waste of everyone’s time, especially yours. 

Advantages to the police of using drones  #

Many benefits come when the police use drones. Drones can help police departments help fight crimes, control traffic, or find missing people.  These advantages include:

1. Easy to use #

Police drones are easy to use. Unlike a crewed helicopter, a police drone will only require a pilot, provided it is fitted with cameras. It will stream real-time quality videos of areas being surveyed. 

Drones also have intelligent flight features that make the drones very simple to operate. Minimal time and expense are needed to train drone pilots from within the police force. 

2. Faster to deploy  #

These devices are easy to set up and deploy. The easiness will ensure that the police get information quickly, as well as real-time videos of an event happening. They can track down a suspect in time or control the traffic flow before a mild situation gets out of hand.

In cases of violent crimes, police drones can also be deployed faster than a search helicopter and chase down a criminal with relative ease. And they can record videos that may be used as evidence.

3. Relatively cheaper #

When trying to get an aerial view of a place or scene, a drone will cost much less than if a helicopter was to be used. Drones have proven to work quite well and are less expensive as compared to helicopters. Drones will only require a charged battery to sustain them in the air, and that will be all. Since drones can fly much closer to the ground level, they can also provide clearer pictures and videos. 

4. Reduces risks  #

Since drones are unmanned, they reduce the risk of death when deployed in dangerous areas. There are scenes that one cannot access even with a helicopter. These areas pose significant challenges and setbacks when information is needed about them. With drones, however, the risks are minimal, and they can be sent almost anywhere.

Drones also reduce risks for police officers, since they can be sent into dangerous situations to gather information. This information can be critical in a successful operation and doesn’t require a police officer to physically be put in harm’s way. 

Disadvantages of the use of drones by the police #

Despite having many advantages, drones also have cons. A significant shortcoming of drones is that they require a lot of regulation to ensure the police do not misuse them. Some of the other common downsides about drone use may include:

  • Drone evidence acquired illegally by the police cannot be used in a court of law. Even if the evidence is solid, the court will dismiss it if it learns that its acquisition did not follow the rule of law.
  • Drones cannot stay in the air for a long time like helicopters; this gives the police a limited time frame for surveillance and data collection.
  • Most drones cannot carry heavy loads, and as such, they can’t be entirely relied on when it comes to search and rescue missions or providing aerial aid.

To sum up, the use of drones in police departments is a positive step in law enforcement. They help in fighting crime, controlling traffic, and general surveillance more quickly and precisely while saving on cost at the same time.


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