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How police use of drones keeps communities safe

A drone flies high above a bustling cityscape as sunlight peeks around skyscrapers.

Police department drones help save lives and accelerate justice

Drones are an increasingly common sight in the skies above our cities, landmarks, and busy events. Also referred to as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), drones can be used for everything from delivery to photography to fireworks-like light shows, but one of the most promising applications both for the people who use them and the communities they serve is in the police use of drones.

For more information, read Police drones: the complete guide.

What does police use of drones look like?

The modern police department is typically asked to do more with less. While staffing shortages and recruitment difficulties frustrate public safety agencies across the United States, the country is also contending with rising violent crime rates. Police department drones are not a solution to every problem law enforcement officers contend with on a daily basis, but they are a deeply scalable and effective means of approaching the needs of public safety.

Here are five ways that drones for police use are already having a positive impact on communities.

Drone as First Responder

When responding to a 911 call or other emergency situation, two things come at the highest premium: time and information. The faster public safety officers can respond to a situation and the more they know about it as they do, the better the outcome is likely to be. That’s a large part of why Drone as First Responder programs have already shown such great results.

“Drones are a huge force multiplier for agencies. 90% of the time, they’ll reach a scene before an officer can,” says Chad Karlewicz, who serves as Commander of Special Operations at the Renton Police Department. “Drones can help us clear a lot of calls and reduce the number of officers needed per call. The future is bright for this technology in law enforcement.”

Dispatching police department drones to emergency calls as a supplement for officers on scene where needed, can resolve incidents more quickly. This is especially important given the limited number of officers many departments can afford to dispatch for any given call.

Search and rescue

A young woman goes missing in the woods. Her family calls for help. Police arrive with a drone equipped with thermal imaging and GPS capabilities. Within about 15 minutes, the drone’s operator spots a human heat signature, police and firefighters are dispatched to the location and the woman – who was incapacitated – receives medical attention. That’s how it happened one Friday morning in Shepherdsville, Kentucky, serving as just one example of the unparalleled power and speed drones enable in search and rescue situations.

The police use of drones in disaster response can be even more critical in reducing harm and providing help where it’s needed. By livestreaming video footage of environments, first responders can determine how to get help and supplies where they’re needed most. Compared to the time, resources, and logistics required to dispatch air support through helicopters or planes, drones can be mobilized near instantaneously.

Accident and crime scene reconstruction

While it’s often essential to get responders to the scene as quickly as possible, the police use of drones in reconstructing accident and crime scenes can also help get them off the scene faster while achieving superior results. Whether it’s at a busy intersection, a business, or a private residence, drones help accelerate justice by capturing key information through advanced image capture techniques.

A drone can take hundreds of photos in the space of a single flight. With the truth recorded into evidence to support later investigations and legal proceedings, police can clear the scene and get traffic, business, and life back to normal as soon as possible.


The more police know as they enter a charged situation, the more measures they can take to minimize harm while ensuring criminals are brought to justice – but the act of gathering that information in and of itself can be a dangerous one. Police department drones can gather information with minimal risk to life or limb, all while a well-equipped team of officers is preparing to respond if needed.

Tactical drones can even be used in combination with a SWAT team by entering a building, clearing rooms, determining the location of subjects, and facilitating two-way communication. And it’s all done with far greater speed and flexibility than a traditional police robot.

Event security

Special events unite a community, draw in visitors and stimulate your local economy. But big crowds must be managed properly to ensure traffic flows smoothly, and incidents must be identified and resolved before they can jeopardize the safety of attendees. The mobile, aerial view enabled by police use of drones is the perfect way to watch for situations like these without putting a damper on everybody’s good time.

Even with security resources stretched thin between the Waste Management Phoenix Open on one side of town and the Super Bowl on the other, the forward-thinking use of drones and other resources helped keep the WM Open safe and enjoyable for attendees. Your community’s next major event may not feature what’s been described as the “Biggest Party in Golf” but drones for police use offer an adaptable and relatively subtle means of keeping the peace.

How drones for police use uphold civil liberties

It’s natural for communities to feel hesitant about increasing police use of drones. But like any other technology, the way police department drones are used in the field is shaped by the ethics and regulations of those who use them as well as their creators.

For the police who use them, drones must abide by the same strict privacy statutes that apply to any officer with a body-worn camera or other recording device. They are also subject to the same standards of transparency that help build and retain trust with the community. Public access to flight records can show when drones were dispatched and why, with precise details like the drone’s path and where and how long it pointed its camera in a certain direction. The Chula Vista police department has even taken the proactive step of placing a dashboard on its department website that tracks daily police department drone flights.

As for the people who help create these drone programs, Axon Air is built with an ethics-first lens. The research and development practices behind the end-to-end drone platform for public safety include continual innovation to prevent misuse, as well as in-depth controls that enable transparency and oversight. Axon Air offers a comprehensive solution for drones in public safety. This includes secure, wireless livestreaming, automated flight logs and reporting, integrated evidence management, fully remote operations for Drone as First Responder (DFR) programs, and a range of tools, training, and professional services to ensure successful deployments. Axon Air’s end-to-end drone solution includes secure wireless livestreaming technology to support real-time situational awareness, as well as deep integration with cloud-based digital evidence management and comprehensive program accountability. Axon Air also offers fully remote operations for Drone as First Responder (DFR) programs and a range of tools, training and professional services to ensure successful deployments.

If you’d like to find out more about how Axon Air can help your department serve its community in an efficient and accountable way, set up a call with an Axon Air professional today.

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