Police Drones In Law Enforcement and Investigations

Police Drone
Learn how drones are used in law enforcement and private investigations.

What are Police Drones?

Drones are unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also known as unmanned aerial systems (UAS), that a user remotely controls. Drones can be equipped with various equipment such as daytime video recorders, low visibility surveillance video, live feed cameras, radar sensors, digital cameras, and radio equipment. In addition, you can mount infrared cameras, sound recorders, laser scanners, thermal imaging, and GPS equipment on a drone.

Eventually, weapon-ready police drones may include equipment like stun guns, automatic fire weapons, tasers, and grenades, depending on the situation. Still, no police drones have been equipped with such weapons.

Although law enforcement drones are still in the beginning stages, they are becoming increasingly important to police investigations. Many police drones are being used for search and rescue missions where a low-flying aerial view is more powerful than using a “bird in the sky” or helicopter, or “boots on the ground,” often consisting of tens or even hundreds of officers patrolling an area on foot.

Additionally, police use drones to document crime scenes more accurately, helping to solve cases more quickly and helping to preserve more details that prosecutors can use to help convict criminals.

Bomb squads can use police drones to access otherwise impossible-to-reach places. Police drones can easily become lifesavers when people are lost or missing, such as a child getting lost (or kidnapped) at a large amusement park or hikers getting lost in the mountains.

The regulatory and legal issues surrounding the use of police drones are still being worked out. Currently, the federal government maintains full jurisdiction over the sky. Therefore, police departments and other law enforcement agencies must apply to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for permission to use police drones. The FAA, in turn, bases its decision on whether or not a particular police department is granted permission to use drones solely on public safety concerns.

However, once a police department is granted permission to use drones, the various civil rights and privacy laws that could potentially come into play are controlled by each state legislature and the laws created by local jurisdictions, i.e. county and city governments.

This means that some police departments must get a warrant before using police drones or any type of unmanned aerial vehicle for surveillance purposes. In contrast, others are not required to do so. However, even in jurisdictions where a warrant is not legally required, many police departments have created their own internal regulations.

It should be noted that members in both the United States Senate and the United States House of Representatives introduced bills that require all police departments in all states and across all local jurisdictions to get a warrant to use police drones. Although these early drone bills died before a vote could be taken, similar bills are expected to be introduced soon.

States legislatures are also grappling with whether or not to create laws that set the same standards for drone usage in every local jurisdiction within their state. For example, in California, the state assembly passed a bill in 2014 that would have required every police department in the entire state to get a search warrant every time they flew a drone except in emergency cases. However, Governor Jerry Brown vetoed the bill because he felt the “emergency cases” were too narrowly defined in the bill.

There is no doubt, however, that a new bill will be drafted soon, so that is something to watch for. So far, fourteen states have passed laws that specifically restrict the usage of drones by law enforcement, usually requiring a warrant before they can be used.

Drones Used By Law Enforcement

Police drones are already being used for reconnaissance missions to spy on criminals and collect the valuable information needed to make a bust. One of the most famous examples of this was the Jimmy Lee Dykes case where the FBI used a drone to peer into Dykes’ bunker through an open pipe.

In this way, they were able to see the exact moment that negotiations started to break down. Further, it allowed them to more precisely and accurately kill Dyke without hurting the five-year-old boy he was holding hostage.

Currently, most drones stay airborne with quadrocopters, and helicopter-style spinning blades. However, engineers are busy designing drones that will stay airborne and maneuver in a completely different way. Many are looking to model drones after animals like hummingbirds and insects. These types of designs are called “biomimetic designs” because they mimic nature. There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel when Mother Nature has already perfected it.

A drone that mimics an insect could potentially be very tiny and could maneuver unnoticed through any tiny open space, the same way insects get into your house or office.

In the future, some police departments hope to use police drones as an advanced tool to solve crimes and find criminals. For example, some advocate that drones would be very useful in finding discarded weapons. Likewise, some believe that criminals could be found by taking thousands of photographs and analyzing these with some sort of face recognition software. License plates and other identifying markers could be searched in essentially the same way.

Some police departments also value drones for their ability to capture a crime scene at very high resolution and at multiple angles before anyone, including the investigators, contaminates the scene. Border crossing patrols are also enthusiastic about the potential for drone surveillance, especially if equipped with movement sensors.

If an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s accidentally wanders away from her care facility, she could endanger herself, and even other people, if she enters a busy street for example. With drone technology, law enforcement could locate the woman much more quickly, minimizing the potential for tragedy.

If a man has climbed to the top of a building and is threatening to commit suicide by jumping, a police drone could be used to access the best way to get rescuers to the man without him noticing and his life could be saved.

While it is 100% certain that police drones can help save lives and solve crimes, many civil rights groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), do fear that drones could become an invasion of privacy. Legislators and police departments will certainly need to work on creating policies that reach a delicate balance between keeping the public safe and interfering too much in private lives.

Before the public can become comfortable with drones, they may need to witness firsthand dramatic rescues using drones, both nationally and in their own communities.

If you have any questions about Police Drones, please leave a comment below. Learn how to register a drone with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Michael Kissiah is the owner of Brandy Lane Publishing, LLC, which owns and operates a small portfolio of websites, including eInvestigator.com. Michael created eInvestigator.com more than 20 years ago after working as a private investigator in the state of Florida. Since that time, he has become an expert at how to find information online and has written over 1000 articles on topics related to the investigation industry. In addition, he is the author of the "Private Investigator Licensing Handbook", available at Amazon.com.


  1. Why am I being surrounded by police drones? They are above my house at least 7-12 of them I see green white and red lights flashing on them. I was set up by the last 2 exes and I feel my house is a staged house and I didn’t do shit to deserve this stress. It’s making me a sick mess I want this to stop being an issue for me I’m scared of being set up or framed yet again. Is this even legal bc they are using witchcraft and Magick to harm me.

  2. There are two police drones that fly above.our city every night.
    They are actively surveilling.
    I work with adults with scizophrenia and paranoid dillusions. The drones absolutely cause these folks serious feelings of persecution and create fear.
    This is a problem not considered but is another very real negative consequence of unfettered use of drones.
    I’ve been camping and went outside.to relieve myself one night and had a drone observing me. We go out into our forests for relaxation and peace having a drone in these environments is a definite invasion of privacy as there is no probably or assumed resone for that kind of surveillance.
    I know we can’t expect privacy in public places but we can expect to be free from surveillance unless it is warranted.
    Every government must be kept at a place that it can be legally overthrown when it inevitably need to be changed.
    Technologies like drones will make our abilities to challenge oppression and tyranny impossible.
    The beginning of the end has begun

  3. Good luck with that! I wrote the faa 5 years ago about it and they did back off. However, they are still here. About as many as u see. I’m in rural TN. Best answer I got is document and possibly reach out to local news stations about it. Good luck to you! I saw on TV in Oakland, CA the law was stalking a boy across from his house , riding by taking pics. Then, one day on social media he asked someone to stay w him cause he was scared of them. Then, was never seen again. Please do be careful.

  4. For over 2 years everyday even Holidays everywhere I go atleast 40 or more Drones.Above my garage my bathroom my bedroom at work flying above my truck sometimes at approximately 25 ft because the fog is thick.The police Department is 1,000 ft from my house they do nothing they say they don’t know.FAA does nothing however the sheriffs if they answer transfer me to a phone no one picks up no way to leave message.There patrol cars pop up out of no where outside city limits.I have had enough harassing me invasion in my head who and how would I go about filing a civil suit,I live in California.

    • I have the same problem now, I’ve been recording them and even following them for months. Its difficult to find any current information about which agencies are using these things and what to do if they’re targeting you and you want to fight it. It’s illegal to take them out of the sky but you have no recourse otherwise, how can you sue if you don’t know who operates it? We need to form civilian resource groups to identify and keep tabs on these things and their operators. All i can say is to stay as legal as you can and document everything. If they’re in the sky they’re probably on the ground too, that new person you meet who is very interested in some aspect of your life? Yah, thanks but no thanks. I sincerely hope you’re still alive and free man, and that in 2 years i am too. Seems unlikely at this point.. anyone reading this later looking for answers, contact me @602ink on insta.. see if I’m still around. I’ve got hours of video footage and photos of these things

  5. Hello I was wandering is the United States of America really Free? I mean we have become a country that everything any one does is being watched. They are cameras at every traffic light thereis cameras every where you go, like restaraunts, store,s grocery stores ,shopping centers ,Amusement parks, Movie Theatre I think its sad and its not right to be watched every where. Our children are growing up in a society where they are too scared to do anything at all because they feel they are being watched/ I understand that as long as no ones doing anything wrong then nothing to worry about but thats not always the case sometimes you wont be doing and wrong and still be accused of doing wrong. I believe as a citizen of the United States of America we should have the right to vote for these things like Drones We should be able to feel like we are “Free Country.”.. Being watched isn’t being free…I don’t know how far these drones have already gone into effect and I certainly don’t like the idea of feeling unsafe. Even some United States Officers are crooked and that being said they could use these drones to watch woman change little girls change and even find a way to be in there home. I really hope and pray that Our President which is wonderful will take this very seriously. This isn’t safe. Its really not and as far as others go that buy one they shouldn’t be sold its only going to be trouble . We have enough nonsense goin on as it is without 1 more thing that’s going to lead to a lot of trouble. Our law stares that if you feel threatened or unsafe someone or anyone comes into your home in the middle of the night say a murderer or thief or even a rapist etc… were to come in your home if he/she were to break in your home we have the right to protect and bare arms. So how in the world could Americans possibly feel safe with these drones? We don’t know who’s using them.. Good and Bad ..???If its the bad were in trouble because then were really not safe at all.. Our children aren’t safe as well as anyone else. Killers Rapists Pdafilists etc,, could be watching and listening recording even our own government and police department..our homes our families. I feel their will be an increase in crime and more Amber Alerts than ever using these drones..Please I want everyone to feel safe and Please really think this through not just on positive side but on the negative side.These drones get in the wrong hands we are in a world of trouble more than before. AGAINST DRONES PROMOTE SAFETY SAY NO TO DRONES. IM A MOTHER OF 3.I have A FAMILY WHOM I LOVE VERY MUCH!

  6. Just a few days ago, there was a court ruling allowing the fight of small weight drones, I reside in Texas and there is State law that prohibits the flight of drones over private property – a real problem if you are a private investigator trying to do surveillance. Hopefully, State law will change according to FAA regulations.


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