Autel Evo II in action in Miami Township

Law enforcement agencies are constantly seeking innovative solutions to give them the edge in their operations and ensure the safety of their officers and the communities they serve. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are part of this, used across the board – surveillance, search and rescue, crime scene analysis, and much more.

The decision to invest in drone technology is not taken lightly. Budgets are tight and the pressure to deliver results is high. With the agencies stretched thin, the challenge lies in justifying the purchases to be made: Can drones truly make a significant difference in operational outcomes to warrant their price tag? Let’s see how these police departments forked out at least $20,000 on their UAV programs, and why they believe it's a worthwhile investment for the future of public safety. 

How 7 Police Departments Upgraded Their Operations With Drones

1. West Chester Township Police

We’ll start off at West Chester Township, Ohio. With an investment of $27,690, the local police department acquired a drone along with the necessary software, training, and a 5% contingency to enhance their efficiency in various police tasks. This move by the West Chester Township Police, under the guidance of Police Chief Joel Herzog, aimed at bolstering the department's ability to track fleeing suspects, locate missing individuals, and investigate traffic incidents more effectively. This is also in tune with a broader trend in Butler County and beyond, where public safety agencies are increasingly turning to drones for aerial surveillance and investigation.

They figured it was time they had their own since relying on neighboring jurisdictions, such as the Butler County Sheriff's Office, for drone support was becoming less viable due to decreased availability. The latter had started using drones back in 2016, and they've had a lot of success, making their operations more effective without breaking the bank. 

The drone purchased by West Chester Township Police Department came with advanced features, including infrared night vision, which significantly enhanced the department's operational capabilities in traffic crash reconstruction, 3-D imaging, and the search for missing persons or hidden suspects. 

2. Tempe Police Department

Among nine agencies in the county equipped with drones, Tempe PD stands out not only for its deployment strategies but also for its clear-cut policies governing drone use. The department has allocated approximately $175,000 towards its drone program, working with models such as the DJI Phantom Pro 4 drone, priced around $1,600. Tempe PD's policy shows the judicious use of drones, limiting their deployment to situations that genuinely warrant aerial support, such as technical rescues, crime scene analysis, and major event security, among others. This approach is rooted in a desire to respect citizens' rights to free speech and assembly, avoiding unnecessary escalation during peaceful gatherings.

Its operations led to situations like the Tempe PD using drone footage by Tempe PD to facilitate the arrest of three protesters during a Black Lives Matter event near a local bookstore. The department's drone was used to capture evidence of alleged crimes during the protest, a tactical move that has sparked a conversation about the balance between security and civil liberties. As drones become increasingly commonplace in police work across the country, the Tempe Police Department's efforts to navigate these complex issues while striving to maintain public safety and trust shows us how the tech is continuing to mesh into our day-to-day lives.

3.  Santa Maria Police Department

Over a three-year period, Santa Maria Police Department in Santa Barbara County developed a specialized drone program under the supervision of Lt. Terry Flaa. This initiative, costing nearly $20,000—funded by the Santa Maria Police Council through an annual golf tournament—positioned the Santa Maria Police as one of the few agencies in the Central Coast area leveraging drone technology to enhance operational efficiency and officer safety. The program's development encountered delays due to the time required for the two-person drone team to obtain FAA licenses, challenges posed by COVID-19, and the need to establish a policy that safeguards the privacy and civil rights of the community.

All the effort was worth it, especially when it comes to strategic policing. It recently marked a significant milestone with its first drone-led arrest, 35-year-old Adam Martinez. He was suspected of stabbing his girlfriend and fleeing. Despite initial difficulties in locating Martinez, the drone proved instrumental the following day, allowing officers to conduct a thorough and safe aerial search, finding him in the Santa Maria riverbed. The drones, equipped with cameras, spotlights, and speakers, are optimized for both daytime and nighttime operations, with a battery life of about 25 minutes, allowing for continuous operation through battery swaps. Despite current FAA licensing restrictions limiting night flights and operations over populated areas, an emergency waiver was obtained for this operation. 

And it's not all about making arrests; the Santa Maria Police see these drones as key players in search and rescue missions and even serving as a de-escalation tool. It's all about making the community safer in smart, new ways.

4. New Albany Police Department

The New Albany Police Department, nestled in Franklin County, integrated a $28,000 drone into its operations back in 2021. This was the DJI Matrice 300 – a flagship of its time, which came with four rotors and the capable of reaching an altitude of 400 feet. The drone boasted a 300mm zoom camera with the impressive ability to read a license plate from a mile away. This addition to the department's arsenal came with glowing endorsements from officers and the chief alike, highlighting its stability and operational effectiveness, even under challenging weather conditions.

What really set this drone program apart wasn't just how advanced the technology was, but the pragmatic approach New Albany Police took in using it. The drone, manned by FAA-certified personnel, became instrumental in various facets of law enforcement—ranging from rapid search and rescue missions, where a missing teenager was located in just 20 minutes, to more strategic uses like traffic monitoring, evidence location, and oversight of live events. Its stealth and efficiency were heralded as major advantages over traditional methods, providing a new level of safety and operational capability.

In May 2023, DJI launched its upgraded flagship – the Matrice 350 RTK, and it’s quickly becoming a powerhouse for public safety agencies. 

5.  Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office

In 2020, the Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office, located in North Carolina, acquired two high-tech DJI drones. Funded by a federal grant, this initiative cost the department a total of approximately $22,000, covering not only the drones but also necessary accessories including extra batteries, chargers, iPads, and more. They even named the drones Maverick, Goose, and Viper, straight out of that classic '80s movie "Top Gun", showing they were all in on using this tech to help out with police work.

These UAVs enhanced the agency's capabilities in various critical areas such as surveillance, search and rescue operations, and special weapons and tactics missions. The DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual, equipped with a thermal camera, and the larger DJI Matrice 600 Pro, were the backbone of the department’s aerial surveillance and operational strategy. County Manager Sparty Hammett highlighted the versatility of these drones, noting their potential applications in a broad range of police work. 

Additionally, the inclusion of the older DJI Phantom, dubbed 'Goose', as a training and backup drone, showing how they were keen on maintaining an effective, multi-tiered drone program. This investment not only exemplified the Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office's forward-thinking in law enforcement tactics but also set a precedent for other agencies to follow.

6.  Lewis County Sheriff's Office

Lewis County Sheriff's Office, situated in a county known for its expansive outdoor terrain, went ahead to acquire a heat-sensing drone and a 3D laser scanning system, collectively valued at nearly $80,000. Spearheaded by the county's chief deputy prosecutor, Eric Eisenberg, the initiative aimed to enhance the precision of mapping major outdoor crime scenes and improving search and rescue operations. Funded predominantly by the prosecutor's office, this investment of $78,564 covered the Trimble X7 scanning system and a sophisticated drone costing over $30,000. The adoption of such technology underscores the agency's commitment to leveraging cutting-edge tools to serve and protect its community more effectively.

While the prosecutor's office itself won't be operating the drone, Attorney Jonathan Meyer emphasized its potential to improve the quality of evidence provided to the prosecution by the sheriff's department. He highlighted a specific incident to illustrate the drone's value: a tragic situation where a car flipped over into a creek, and responders were urgently trying to locate a young child in the water.

At that time, officers had to wait for the state patrol to get to an airport, take off in a plane, and then come to Lewis County with their thermal imaging gear to search. Sadly, they eventually found a body. Having such technology readily available would greatly benefit not just Lewis County's law enforcement efforts but also its community members.

Beyond its primary policing applications, the sheriff's office has a broader utility for the drone, including collaborations with public works and emergency management, provided operators undergo the requisite certification. 

Also Read: Drones For Traffic Control, And 6 Police Departments Already Ahead

7.  Lyon County Sheriff's Office

In May 2023, the Lyon County Sheriff's Office put in motion plans to use $26,000 to acquire six drone units, in a strategic move sanctioned by the Lyon County Commissioners to enhance officer efficiency and safety. Spearheaded by Sheriff Jeff Cope, the package included a sophisticated Matrice 30-T medium-sized drone alongside five smaller units. The funding didn't just stop at hardware; it extended to cover comprehensive training for deputies, underlining the department's goal to maintain a drone operator on duty at all times. This technological upgrade promised not only to streamline operations during suspect apprehensions and standoffs but also to offer a critical advantage during severe weather events, enhancing the safety measures in place for the community.

The decision to procure these drones marked a departure from past practices where the department had to rely on resources from neighboring communities, like the drone owned by the Reading Volunteer Fire Department. Sheriff Cope's vision was to bolster the department's operational capabilities while alleviating external dependencies.  The department planned to complete training and be ready to use the new technology for public safety in just over a month after getting it.

Other Mentions

Before we wrap things up, here are some more extras:

· In 2021, the Tomball Police Department in Harris County acquired a drone for $21,500. 1 

· Between 2018 and 2019, the Farmer's Branch Police Department in Dallas County invested $40,000 in drones, followed by an additional $5,854 on drones in the 2019-2020 period. 2; 3

· In March 2023, the Cowan Police Department in Franklin County, which had six officers at the time, was awarded a grant of $67,164 for body cameras, a drone, and additional equipment. This funding came from the state's Violent Crime Intervention Fund. 4 

Empower Your Force with DSLRPros Police Drones

You too can bring UAVs into your operations. Whether you need to cover large areas for crowd monitoring, conduct detailed crime scene analysis, or deploy rapid response units with real-time intelligence, DSLRPros has got you covered. We have a comprehensive range of drones that include the DJI flagships like the Matrice 350 RTK and Mavic 3 Enterprise, Autel long-range models like EVO Max 4N to the American-made Teledyne FLIR SIRAS. 

Our curated drone kits and bundles are designed to meet the specific needs of law enforcement agencies, ensuring you have the right tools for surveillance, search and rescue, and tactical operations. This extends to payload options like zoom and thermal cameras, loudspeakers and search lights that are key parts of policing tasks. Training is also available to get your officers well-versed in working the drones, to make the integration smoother for your department.  

Visit DSLRPros Police Drones today to explore solutions for your department. For personalized assistance, give us a call on (877) 299-1075 / (213) 262-9436 or email