police drones

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police drones
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REVOLUTIONIsING law enforcement

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Contents Area how are police using drones? Drones are transforming the way that police operate. Fighting Crime And Keeping Communities Safe Drones have revolutionised policing. […]


REVOLUTIONIsING law enforcement

Use the links below to take you to the section you're after.

Contents Area

how are police using drones?

Drones are transforming the way that police operate.

Fighting Crime And Keeping Communities Safe

Drones have revolutionised policing. Unmanned aircraft have become a force multiplier for law enforcement teams, providing unprecedented views of a scene or incident - helping to fight crime, plan an effective response, and keep officers safe.

As the use of the technology has exploded in recent years, the relatively low cost of drones has enabled agencies of all sizes to utilise this innovative method of policing.

A study by the Center for the Study of the Drone At Bard College revealed that the drone adoption rate in public safety in the US is rising, and 70% of these agencies work in law enforcement.

Police are deploying drones and sophisticated payloads - including zoom and thermal cameras - for a range of missions, including search and rescue, crime-scene investigation, crowd control, evidence-gathering, and accident reconstruction.

The biggest advantage of drones in law enforcement is the ability to go where officers cannot. From hazmat calls, surveying damage from natural disasters, and responding to bomb threats, the technology is fundamentally changing how police departments respond to a wide range of incidents and help keep the public safe.

Total number of public safety agencies in the US with drones by year. From the Public Safety Drones survey by The Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College.

“Drones allow us to pre-position each unit before we deploy from the ground and it is also great for capturing evidence. Drones are a massive game changer. We can see what’s going on and watch the movement of people. Having footage go straight to the control room in real-time is so beneficial. You can’t write this stuff.”

Mark Talliss, of Wiltshire Police

"Kent Police started using a drone in June 2017, and we have been impressed with the results. It has proved to be a cost-effective and efficient tool, supporting officers on the ground to deal with a broad range of policing activities, like searching for suspects/missing people, searching for stolen property, planning and overseeing police operations, and obtaining aerial imagery of crime scenes and RTCs."

Kent Police Statement

police drones for search and rescue

More than 400 lives rescued from danger thanks to drones around the world.

A Track Record Of Rescue

Police are using DJI Drones and a range of different sensors to assist with search and rescue operations, helping to save lives right around the world.

Law enforcement agencies can take advantage of a wide range of benefits over traditional methods:

  • Explore hard to reach areas with ease - and at up to 10x the speed of traditional methods.
  • An array of sensors, such as thermal, are available to give police forces the best chance of a successful rescue.
  • Deploy much faster than using traditional methods - the DJI M300 RTK can be deployed in 90 seconds!
  • Significant cost-savings overusing helicopters or large-scale search parties.
  • Fly lower to the ground for close-range inspection.

These advantages will not only save the resources of often already-stretched police forces, but it will help save more missing people in the future.

See how Norfolk Police saved a man's life after he became lost in marshland:

"I think without the drone we would never have seen him for where he was. Without that drone, we wouldn't have saved him."

Sergeant Danny Leach, Lead Drone Pilot for Norfolk Police

police drones for crash-scene investigation

Cut the time it takes to collect evidence.

"More Detailed Than Traditional Methods"

Drones have had a radical impact on the work of crash-site reconstruction.

By adding airborne cameras to their toolkits, public safety crews have been able to cut the time it takes to map a site and gather evidence.

What’s more, the data they can gather is better than what they were able to collect with previous methods that took hours.

The benefits of utilising a drone after an RTC include:

  • Cut down the time it takes to assess a crash scene, which helps reduce traffic congestion and keep emergency service personnel safe.
  • The drone reduces the amount of time they need to physically spend on the road.
  • Drone pilots can keep a safe distance from passing cars while piloting over an accident.

"It’s about a hundred times more detailed than what we could do with people taking the measurements. And it means that there’s much less time for the road to be closed and traffic to be backed up."

Chief Deputy Jeff Lower of the Tazewell County, Illinois Sheriff's Office

police drones for gathering evidence

Produce accurate 3D models for analysis.

Capture The Evidence Efficiently

Drones are an effective solution for gathering evidence.

Similar to the benefits of crash-scene investigation, drones are able to produce accurate and detailed 3D reconstructions of a crime scene.

Other benefits include:

  • Collect evidence which could be hard or dangerous to collect from the ground.
  • Thanks to accessories, such as the spotlight on the DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise series, drones provide lighting at night or during low-light environments. The use of thermal and/or zoom cameras can also be an asset during evidence collection.
  • Drones can survey a site and collect mapping data much quicker than on-the-ground methods. In fact, drones allow officers to collect immediate and real-time data.

A drone with a thermal camera helped Lincolnshire Police land its first successful UAV prosecution. The technology uncovered a major cannabis farm, and the footage was passed on to the investigating team to obtain a search warrant, and it was used in evidence at court.

“The filming from the drone took one minute and 20 seconds, and it was only in the air for five minutes from start to finish. Admittedly, the National Police Air Service helicopter could have done this, but this would have been at a cost of about £3,000 per hour, and we did this as part of our routine duties."

Lincolnshire Police Spokesman

police drones for disaster response

Access dangerous areas - quickly and safely.

Every Second Counts

When disaster strikes, a quick response is crucial. Drones are the perfect solution, as they can be deployed rapidly and cheaply - reaching inaccessible and dangerous areas and providing vital information about the crisis.

In a disaster situation, drones can be used to:

  • Provide fast and effective situational awareness with mapping and images to help coordinate relief efforts, gain an overview of the situation, and identify access routes.
  • Use thermal and zoom cameras to help fire crews identify fire hot spots.
  • Assess damage to utilities, infrastructure, and property.
  • Search for survivors.
  • Create before and after maps of the impacted area. This information can be shared with local authorities/agencies, affected residents, and insurance companies.

Derbyshire Police deployed drones after part of the dam wall collapsed at Whaley Bridge, utilising zoom capabilities to assess the damage and help a Chinook place bags of aggregate.

In California, police used drones to map the scene following a major wildfire at Paradise. This not only provided situational awareness, but helped residents see if their homes had been destroyed, without having to go into a disaster zone.

“Following the wildfire, we learnt that a small drone can be sent up into the sky at 100ft or 200ft and take a quick series of snapshots and stitch together almost instantaneously a model of what happened to the neighborhood, which can then be uploaded to the county or city’s website and residents can click in and see what’s going on in their neighborhood. The drones provided a quick and easy situational awareness tool and I truly believe that mapping is critical for disaster zones.”

Commander Tom Madigan, of Alameda County Sheriff’s Office

police drones for SURVEILLANCE and crowd control

A unique vantage point is vital for deployment tactics.

Use A Tether For Increased Flight Time

Surveillance by drone is an important and valuable part of policing - but forces will not deploy unmanned aircraft to simply spy on you for no good reason.

Drones can be deployed by police for a range of observation missions, such as scouting key areas or suspects, obtaining vital situational awareness to help with deployment tactics, and monitoring crowd behaviour and movement.

The benefits of using drones for these types of missions are numerous, including:

  • Drones offer a unique vantage point and provide a large field of view without compromising officer safety. They are also deployed quicker and cheaper than helicopter.
  • Quiet and unobtrusive, drones can be deployed without being spotted, when stealth is the key.
  • Drones enable law enforcement teams to investigate suspects - especially those who could be armed - while maintaining a safe distance. This real-time intelligence is key for planning a safe and effective strategy.
  • Thanks to zoom cameras and thermal sensors, police can gather a clear picture of an on-going scene or incident, allowing them to deploy resources accordingly and identify any trouble-makers.
  • CCTV cameras can be vandalised or covered. A drone's height makes this difficult, if not impossible.
  • Ahead of a major event, drones can be used to recce an area.
  • A drone tether is an incredibly useful addition to a police drone programme, and ideal for surveillance operations. The tether generates power so the drone can stay airborne for hours - perfect for when endurance is paramount.

“What the drone does is give you a really good indication of the crowd dynamics, so you can see as a crowd is moving whether there will be any problems. The use of drones in policing has changed the way we do things. The control room will be looking down and actually be seeing where the resources are. It just gives that much better overview of what is going on.”

Norfolk Police Spokesman

Police drones to support fire crews

Detect hot spots and see through smoke.

Aerial Insights Improve Safety

Police can use drones to support fire crews and help them tackle a blaze.

Drones can carry thermal sensors and zoom cameras which can provide key information for firefighters.

The advantages of using drones during a fire include:

  • Deploy quickly and easily to gain an overhead view of the incident, providing crews with rapid and accurate situational awareness, in real-time.
  • Thermal cameras can be used to see through smoke and detect hot spots, helping to shape firefighting tactics and improve crew safety.
  • Identify access routes and directions to guide crews towards the incident.

"Using the drone, we were able to see the scale and size of the fire and identify where the hot spot was, so the fire crews knew which area to target.”

Mark Talliss, Wiltshire Police

police drones for hazmat response

Why go into a dangerous situation when drones can do it for you?

Safe And Effective Data Collection

HazMat response can be a dangerous operation - dealing with highly toxic and extremely volatile materials which can be lethal. It's the kind of material you want to avoid at all costs - and a drone can help with this.

The emergence of drones has enabled HazMat teams to collect the information they need in a safe and effective way. Here's why:

  • A drone can provide a useful view from above. relaying regular and real-time information, enabling crews to make informed decisions from a safe distance.
  • Drones improve crew safety by limiting the number of entries needed to the site. Why send your team in when a drone can do it for you?
  • Streaming drone footage back to the control room or operating base improves communication, allowing the team to analyse the same video in real-time, helping to cut down on misinformation or misunderstandings.
  • Typically, a technician or crew member, in full gear, will go and identify the situation, before sharing the information so the team can change its gear/tactics. In the process, thousands of pounds of equipment can be destroyed, all while precious time ticks by. A drone can carry out this task with speed and precision.
  • Working in a HazMat suit for a prolonged period in hot conditions can be uncomfortable and dangerous. A drone minimises this problem.
  • A drone can carry key items, such as specialist detectors, to help deal with the situation.

"Previous to drones, there was no way to keep eyes on our guys. We relied solely on radio traffic, which is shoddy at best. Having an eye in the sky enhances our ability to mitigate a scene. It helps us understand what they see a lot faster and ensures everyone works from the same operational picture. If I can minimise risk and use a piece of machinery to do that job, it’s a win for us.”

Rich Gatanis, HazMat Expert

how do police deal with rogue drones?

New powers to tackle misuse of unmanned aircraft.

Drone Detection Technology Has A Part To Play

Drones are transforming the world of work and public safety - but there are times when unmanned aircraft fall into the wrong hands and can be used in potentially dangerous ways.

As a result, police are able to identify illegal and unregistered drones that may be hazardous to the surrounding environment to keep their communities safe.

Police in the UK, for example, are to receive new powers to tackle the misuse of drones, including landing, inspecting and seizing drones if an offence has been committed and a warrant is secured.

The legislation is contained in the Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Bill, which had its second reading in Parliament in January 2020.

Drone users could also face an on-the-spot fine for certain offences, such as failing to provide evidence that they have the correct permissions and exemptions if found to be flying their device too high or too close to buildings, or failing to provide evidence of competency or registration.

The bill will also give the police new stop and search powers around airports, prisons and other restricted areas. It will amend the Police Act 1997 to allow the police and senior prison authorities to authorise the use of counter-drone measures to combat illegal drone use.

In 2019, the drone detection technology DJI AeroScope - supplied by HELIGUY.com™ - was used to trace and seize drones being flown illegally during the British Grand Prix weekend at Silverstone.

"The team was really impressed with DJI AeroScope. It was easy to use and gave real-time information allowing the team the capability to respond in a timely manner, on one occasion so quickly the drone never took off and was subsequently turned off, but getting that high-visibility police presence made whoever was responsible think twice. It isn’t possible to say with any certainty that the presence of the drone team and the detection equipment, including the AeroScope, prevented any incursion over the British Grand Prix circuit; however with the proactive nature of the operation and the multi-agency collaboration, we can safely say that people were not given the opportunity to fly over the circuit.”

PC Alan Hincks, Northamptonshire Police

which drones do police use?

Different drones provide different operational capabilities.

Harness The Power Of The DJI Eco-system

DJI drones have become the go-to tool for many police forces, providing the necessary features to respond appropriately to emergency situations.

According to the third edition of the Public Safety Drones report, compiled by the Center for the Study of the Drone At Bard College, DJI drones were the most popular among public safety teams (see graph, right).

And there’s a good reason for this. DJI technology offers a reliable, versatile and an out-of-the-box solution for public safety agencies, all at an affordable price – especially compared to other enterprise drones on the market.

Among the most suitable options available for police forces, the DJI M300 RTK is a ground-breaking aircraft, with an incredible endurance of 55 minutes, and an enhanced weather-resistance rating of IP45. The drone is packed with features which make it ideal for law enforcement agencies, including the H20T camera - engineered exclusively for the M300 RTK and featuring thermal, zoom, wide, and laser rangefinder capabilities

The M300 RTK is the latest member of the Matrice family, following up on the renowned M200 Series V2. The drones in the V2 Series have established themselves as a firm favourite for law enforcement, especially the M210, thanks to their ability to carry dual payloads, including the Z30 zoom camera and XT2 thermal sensor, plus third-party cameras.

Another popular choice for police forces is the Mavic 2 Enterprise Series. These lightweight, foldable, easily transportable and quickly deployable drones come with three accessories – including a loudspeaker and a bright spotlight. The Mavic 2 Enterprise has a dynamic zoom camera (2x optical 3x digital zoom), while the Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual has a side-by-side thermal sensor and 4K camera.

Number of agencies in the US Emergency Services who use DJI drones, compared to other manufacturers. The results relate to agencies involved in the Public Safety Drones survey by The Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College.

"We’ve completed nearly 600 separate deployments so far and I’d guess that’s not far off 15,000 minutes in the air. We deploy to a huge variety of police-related matters, the most common incidents tend to be missing people searches, firearms operations, road-traffic collisions, crime scenes and major events (such as football matches or large music festivals), but we also support our partner agencies such as the fire service. The DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise is a great drone, it’s so quick to deploy and gives us eyes in the air when we need them. We also have DJI M210s."

PC Tom Shainberg, Alliance Drone Team, Devon and Cornwall Police, and Dorset Police

Best DJI Drones For Police

Up to 55 minute flight time.
  • An IP45 weather-resistance rating.
  • Carry up to three payloads at once.
  • H20T camera, built for the M300 RTK, is a multi-sensor solution, with thermal, zoom, wide, and laser rangefinder capabilities.
  • Enhanced safety features and flight redundancy.
Rugged and robust with an IP43 weather-resistance rating.
  • Carry dual payloads to increase mission efficiency.
  • Compatible with a range of cameras, including third-party options.
  • 34 minute maximum flight time.
  • The M200 Series also has an RTK version available.
Three key accessories - spotlight, beacon, and a loudspeaker.
  • Mavic 2 Enterprise has a 12MP camera with dynamic zoom capabilities.
  • Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual has thermal and standard RGB sensors.
  • Lightweight, foldable, easily transportable, and quick to deploy.
  • Password-protection to access the drone and the data.

starting a police drone programme

Public perception is key.

Transparency Is A Priority

Improved situational awareness, faster deployment, and enhanced safety - there's no doubt that drones have become a useful addition to police forces. Despite this, the police's use of drones is still met with a wave of scepticism and concern from certain sections of society - with some people conjuring up pictures of an Orwellian state.

With this in mind, some police forces can be hesitant to start a drone programme. But it can be done. After all, police forces around the world are utilising drones.

One of the most important pieces of advice is to be open and transparent, especially with the public, to try to allay any concerns, particularly around thorny subjects like surveillance. Sometimes, decision-makers within your own department can be hesitant to start off with, but are then convinced once they see the power of the technology.

For instance, New York Fire Battalion Chief Anthony Pascocello admits there was resistance to adding drones to the department, but using an unmanned aircraft for the first time was an 'earth-shattering moment'. He adds: "It was the first time that the incident commander had real-time information from the roof and he could actually see what the sector was reporting back to him. Once he saw what the drone could do, he was sold on it.”

To help you get started, here are some top tips to enable you to move towards starting or scaling a public safety drone operation.

10 Tips For Starting A Drone Programme

  • Start small and focus on one use case. Perfect it and build from there.
  • Provide success stories from other departments or localities, because there are plenty out there.
  • Know what you are getting into, as a drone programme requires governance, policies/procedures, defining missions, selection of UAS and payloads, training/proficiency, maintenance and thorough documentation.
  • Engage your jurisdiction’s administration and elected officials.
  • Plan to use the UAS for multiple public safety missions and with other public safety agencies.
  • Where possible, create a regional team of public safety from multiple jurisdictions or plan a programme alongside other public safety agencies.
  • Develop a clear policy as to when UAS will be used for surveillance and evidence, and provide safeguards to ensure personal privacy.
  • Explain recording policy and length of maintaining those video recordings.
  • Explain the extent to maintain training and safety protocols.
  • Ensure your pilots are trained, licensed and certified. Ensure your pilots are trained, licensed and certified.

"I still remember the first Board of Supervisors’ meeting when we had to give a presentation (about starting the drone programme). There were hundreds of people and every single person spoke against what we were trying to do, mainly because of privacy concerns. We committed to being transparent throughout the process and I can tell you that five years later – after thousands and thousands of flights – we have not received one single complaint about infringing anybody’s privacy."

Commander Tom Madigan, of Alameda County Sheriff’s Office

how does HELIGUY.com™ help the police?

Comprehensive supply and support for law enforcement teams.

Build Your Drone Programme With Us By Your Side

As one of the world's leading drone suppliers, HELIGUY.com™ has established a track record of delivering dedicated operational support to police forces.

We are entrusted by more than 40 forces in the UK alone, helping to bolster their UAV programmes and supporting them every step of the way.

As a true one-stop-shop, HELIGUY.com™ offers comprehensive cover to all aspects of a police drone division, including access to free expert consultancy and advice; technical support from our in-house DJI-approved team of technicians; dedicated police drone training; staging demonstration events and roadshows; and attending handover days, enabling officers to unlock the true potential of their aircraft.

HELIGUY.com™ is a trusted DJI Partner and has a vast inventory of drones and sensors to help support the work of police forces across the world. With more than a decade of experience, HELIGUY.com™ has established a portfolio of contacts to provide access to a wealth of industry-leading solutions, such as Elistair's Drone Tethers and Excelerate Technology's UAV Streamer.

Allowing forces to dynamically and flexibly scale their fleets, HELIGUY.com™ offers a range of supply options, including 0% finance purchasing and a large pool of rental stock.

With warehouse facilities in Dallas, Texas, USA, and the United Kingdom, HELIGUY.com™ is able to supply drone pilots and support police drone programmes around the world.

“Crucially, drones provide vital information which stops us putting firefighters or police officers at risk. The relationship that we have as a drone team with HELIGUY.com™ means that if we ever need expert advice or support, they are only a phone call away."

PC Alan Hincks, Northamptonshire Police

Frequently Asked Questions

Common Questions About The Police's Use Of Drones