Drone Use by U.S. Law Enforcement Agencies Climbs Sharply

The number of public safety agencies with drones has more than doubled since the end of 2016, according to data collected by the Center for the Study of the Drone at New York’s Bard College.

ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. — More than 900 state and local police, sheriff, fire and emergency services agencies in the United States have purchased drones, a new study says.

The number of public safety agencies with drones has increased 82% in the past year, according to the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College, located here.

“All told, there are now more than twice as many agencies that own drones as there are agencies that own manned aircraft in the U.S.,” the study says.

In an update report released May 29, the study found that drone use among public safety agencies has emerged as the dominant form of air surveillance. The report shows there are at least 910 public safety agencies in the U.S. that own at least one drone, more than double the number of agencies with manned aircraft programs.

Between 2009 and 2015, about 150 agencies started drone programs, but in 2016, more than 250 started drone programs in that one year alone. Since then, growth has continued as 334 agencies started programs in 2017 and already at least 120 agencies have acquired drones in 2018.

The database for the study includes all known law enforcement and emergency response agencies that are reported to own at least one drone. However, it reflect the total number of agencies that have used drones at some point, the report’s authors say, since it is not uncommon for an agency to receive drone services from nearby agencies or to contract the services of a local drone operator.

The database is said to be established on a combination of local media reports and government records.

Drones are being deployed by public safety agencies for a variety of uses, such as monitoring wildfires and other natural events, monitoring vehicle and foot traffic at major sporting events, surveilling inmates at correctional facilities, among other forms of law enforcement support.

Law enforcement accounts for roughly two-thirds of public safety agencies with a drone program, according to the study. Drones are used by public safety agencies in every state, except Rhode Island.

Texas has the most public safety agencies with drones (67), followed by followed by California (58) and Wisconsin (56). In addition to widespread municipal use, the report says 28 states also have at least one statewide public safety agency that deploys drones.

Cook County, Illinois, where Chicago is located, is the county with the most agencies using drones, with 11.

Go here for a complete list of public safety agencies that have drone programs, per the study’s database.

For a deep dive into the latest developments, applications, projections, regulatory issues and challenges surrounding drones, ground robotics and AI, check out SSI’s May publication, The Robosecurity Issue.

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About the Author


Although Bosch’s name is quite familiar to those in the security industry, his previous experience has been in daily newspaper journalism. Prior to joining SECURITY SALES & INTEGRATION in 2006, he spent 15 years with the Los Angeles Times, where he performed a wide assortment of editorial responsibilities, including feature and metro department assignments as well as content producing for latimes.com. Bosch is a graduate of California State University, Fresno with a degree in Mass Communication & Journalism. In 2007, he successfully completed the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association’s National Training School coursework to become a Certified Level I Alarm Technician.

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