police drones

drones for first responders and public safety

how are First Responders using drones?

Drones are transforming the way that police and fire crews operate.

Fighting Crime And Keeping Communities Safe

Drones have revolutionized the way that first responders operate. Unmanned aircraft have become a force multiplier for law enforcement teams, firefighters, and HazMat personnel, 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 grown in recent years, the relatively low cost of drones has enabled agencies of all sizes to utilize this innovative method of fighting crime and keeping neighborhoods safe.

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, with 70% of these agencies working in law enforcement.

Meanwhile, DJI's Senior Director of Public Safety Integration, Romeo Durscher, said that public safety adoption rates have skyrocketed in the United States, with adoption rates in the last few years exceeding 500%.

First responders 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 for first responders is the ability to go where officers cannot. Whether it is HazMat calls, surveying damage from natural disasters, or responding to bomb threats, the technology is fundamentally changing how first responders respond to a wide range of incidents and help to 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 add value to the important work that firefighters and search and rescue people are doing and this technology can keep firefighters and police officers from losing their lives.”

Commander Tom Madigan, Alameda County Sheriff’s Office

A Drone Is Cheaper and Quicker Than Deploying A Helicopter

"Key Value Of Drones Is Receiving Information Incredibly Fast."

For first responders, deploying a drone is a quicker and more cost-effective solution than sending out a helicopter. 

For instance, buying a DJI M300 RTK with a H20T sensor - which has zoom, thermal, wide-angle, and laser rangefinder capabilities - costs less than $20,000. In comparison, one report has indicated that first responder helicopters cost roughly $500,000 to $3 million. The helicopter’s operating costs of $200 to $400 per hour and the maintenance bills increase this expense - making it far more costly than a drone. 

Drones also have the advantage of being quieter, making them better placed during covert operations, while their ability to fly lower to the ground is useful, especially in times of cloud cover. 

For example, Los Angeles Fire Department's air operations used to be carried out by a number of department-owned helicopters. But there were challenges.

For instance, it would take each helicopter about an hour to make a round-trip flight from the incident scene back to the helipad. Flying in urban environments also provided hurdles; the helicopters were not allowed to fly below a certain minimum altitude, and they were loud, making it difficult to capture actionable intel. So, LAFD invested in drones, which provided the perfect balance - cheaper, quicker, and quieter to operate.

Chief Richard Fields said: "The information gap between helicopter pilots and our men on the ground is what led us to integrate drones into our department. Drones have provided us with real-time communication, which we can quickly share with incident commanders. The key value of drones during emergencies is receiving useful information incredibly fast."


drones for search and rescue

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

A Track Record Of Rescue

First responders 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.

The benefits of using drones over traditional methods for search and rescue include:

  • Explore hard to reach areas with ease - and at up to 10x the speed of traditional methods.
  • An array of sensors, such as thermal and zoom, are available to give first responders 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.


There are numerous examples in the U.S of drones helping to save missing people. These include a hiker trapped on a ledge at night in Snow Canyon State Park, Utah, and an 88-year-old man who had gone missing from his home in Brownsville, Texas.

In the case of the missing pensioner, Brownsville’s Deputy Fire Chief Cesar Pedraza said that using the drone had saved the man's life; spotting him in tall grass - an area that might have been difficult to locate by searchers working only with the information they could gather on foot and by car.

"The fact that drones have saved hundreds of lives is an amazing statistic. It means we have hundreds of people still with us today, meaning their families and friends have not had to mourn, which is tremendous. It shows the potential of this technology.” 

Romeo Durscher, Senior Director of Public Safety Integration at DJI

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 that officers can now gather is better than what they were able to collect with previous methods that took hours.

The benefits of utilizing 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 first responders need to physically spend on the road.
  • Drone pilots can keep a safe distance from passing cars while piloting over an accident.
"Using a drone after a road-traffic collision is about a hundred times more detailed than what we could do with people physically 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

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.

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 maps 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.


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

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 first responders 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 vandalized 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 program, and ideal for surveillance operations. The tether generates power so the drone can stay airborne for hours - perfect for when endurance is paramount. 


During a protest in Richmond, Virginia, a drone  was flown to prevent any conflict between  pedestrians and vehicles, and assisted the police  to successfully direct motor officers to stop traffic  before it got intermeshed with the protesters


“Search warrants were issued and the UAS was  flying overhead maintaining an overwatch when the deputies made entry, and could see all sides of the  house. It saw and recorded people coming out of  windows, drugs thrown into the bushes, and guns thrown onto the roof. The suspects were a block away  and thought they were home free when units rolled up and arrested them.”

Charles Werner, National Council on Public Safety UAS

drones for firefighting

Detect hot spots and see through smoke.

Aerial Insights Improve Safety

"I always like the reference of one fire chief who said that the drone is the best invention after the fire hose."

So said DJI's Senior Director of Public Safety Integration, Romeo Durscher.

This quote sums up perfectly how important drones have become for firefighting.

Drones can carry thermal sensors and zoom cameras which 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.
"There are a lot of missions and applications that we can use drones for. The main one is situational awareness, but as we go down the mission list we touch on special operations with our rescue capabilities and high-angle ability. Thermal imaging on a drone, such as the DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise, tells us the temperature gradients and helps us to identify where the hot spots are, which allows us to deploy our resources in the right places, providing a faster response and helping us deploy the team on the ground as safely as possible.” 

Captain Michael Leo, Fire Department New York

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, and 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 minimizes 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 minimize 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?

Unauthorized drone operators could face civil penalties.

Drone Detection Technology Has 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. 

The FAA says that if you witness a drone operation that appears dangerous or is being used to commit a crime, report it immediately to your local law enforcement first responders. They can protect public safety and can help discourage dangerous or illegal activities.          

Alternatively, if you witness a drone not following FAA rules, you may reach out to your local FAA flight standards district office. The FAA's investigators may be able to investigate your report and follow up with the drone operator.          

Unauthorized drone operators may be subject to penalties and criminal charges.          

One of the key tools that police can use is the drone defense system, DJI AeroScope. A purpose-built drone detection system, AeroScope allows an operator to quickly and easily track real-time telemetry data from DJI aircraft. This allows the operator to protect their airspace and make an informed decision amid a drone threat.


which drones do police use?

Different drones provide different operational capabilities for first responders.

Harness The Power Of The DJI Eco-system 

DJI drones have become the go-to tool for many first responders, 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).

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, 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 first responders, 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 favorite for law enforcement and firefighting, 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 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.


Best DJI Drones For Police


  • Up to 55 minutes of 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.

DJI M210 V2

  • 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.

Mavic 2 Enterprise Series

  • Three accessories - spotlight, beacon, and a loudspeaker.
  • Mavic 2 Enterprise: 12MP camera with dynamic zoom capabilities.
  • Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual: Thermal and standard RGB sensors.
  • Light, foldable, easily transportable, quick to deploy.
  • Password-protection to access the drone and the data.

Flying DJI Drones In The Rain - A Guide To IP Ratings And Looking After Your Aircraft

A Robust Solution When Duty Calls

You can't always predict when an incident will happen, and sometimes first responders will need to deploy drones in the wind and the rain.  

DJI drones, such as the M300 RTK and M200 Series V2, offer a robust solution to enable crew members to fly in difficult conditions.  

The DJI M300 RTK has an IP45 rating. While this is not a complete waterproofing, it does mean that the drone is protected against low pressure jets of water (or splashing water) from any angle. In fact, DJI has stated that the M300 RTK can withstand 100mm of rain during a 24-hour period.

Being IP45-rated also ensures that the M300 RTK is protected against solid objects greater than 1mm, such as screws and wires. The H20T camera, which is built especially for the M300 RTK, has an IP44 rating.

The DJI M300 RTK also has a wind resistance of 15m/s and can operate in temperatures from -20°C to 50°C, making it a safe and effective platform in a variety of challenging environments.

The DJI M200 Series V2 has an IP43 rating (protected against sprays of water up to 60° from the vertical) and DJI says that it can operate in light rain (less than 10mm a day).

The DJI M200 Series V2 has a maximum wind-speed resistance of 12m/s, and can operate in temperatures from -20°C to 50°C.

After flying your drone in inclement weather, it is important that you take the time to wipe it down and dry it off and store it correctly. 

starting a public safety drone program        

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 and first responders. Despite this, public safety drone-use is still met with 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 and other emergency service departments can be hesitant to start a drone program. But it can be done. After all, drones are being utilized around the world for public safety and law enforcement.

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 said: "By using a drone, 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 Program

  • 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 program 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 agencies from multiple jurisdictions or plan a program alongside other public safey 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.

"Don't Reinvent The Wheel" - Romeo Durscher, DJI's Senior Director of Public Safety Integration, Shares His Tips  

"I still remember the first Board of Supervisors’ meeting when we had to give a presentation (about starting the drone program). 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

tactical bvlos waiver

Special permission for first responders to fly beyond visual line of sight.

Learn How To Apply For Yours

Certain missions require a drone to be flown beyond visual line of sight, to help assess operational environments.

To enable this, the FAA has recently released a guide to help public safety agencies apply for First Responder Tactical Beyond Visual Line of Sight (TBVLOS) drone waivers.

These temporary waivers will enable first responders using drones to better protect the public and fly UAS into areas where it is unsafe to send people.

The waivers will ease public safety drone restrictions, helping reduce the risk to first responders and ensure community safety.

The Tactical BVLOS waivers will expand first responders’ drone capabilities, but there are conditions which must be adhered to. These include:

  • The First Responder must already be flying under a valid Part 91 Certificate of Authorization.
  • TBVLOS is only to be used in extreme emergency situations to safeguard human life.
  • The Pilot in Command (PIC) will return to Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) operations as soon as practical.
  • The PIC must not operate any higher than 50 feet above or greater than 400 feet laterally of the nearest obstacle while operating TBVLOS. The 50 feet above an obstacle cannot exceed the 400 feet above ground level (AGL) hard ceiling.
  • The UAS must remain within 1500 feet of the PIC.


There are numerous stages to applying for a Tactical BVLOS drone waiver, starting with an initial request to the FAA. Once your concept of operations is approved, you will be instructed to submit through the COA Application Process system. 

For full details of how to apply, click the green TBVLOS Waiver: How To Apply button below. 

"The Tactical BVLOS waiver gives us the chance to operate and provide great intel to our incident commanders and critical decision-makers that will improve our personal safety and make for a safer place for our citizens. Not being able to conduct such operations may put lives and/or property at risk. It gives us a huge benefit to maintain not only the safety of our people but get into a situation of doing more good for our citizens and businesses."

Deputy Chief Chris Sadler, York County Fire and Life Safety

how does HELIGUY.com™ help first responders?

Comprehensive supply and support for law enforcement teams.

Build Your Drone Program 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 and first responders, including more than 40 in public safety agencies in the UK alone. 

As a true one-stop-shop, HELIGUY.com™ offers comprehensive cover to all aspects of a first responder drone division, including access to free expert consultancy and advice; and technical support from our UK-based in-house DJI-approved team of technicians.  

In the UK, our specialist drone-training team leads dedicated closed courses for public safety departments, as well as staging demonstration events, handover days, and CPD (Continuing Professional Development) courses.

The training team has also helped police officers become accredited/qualified drone pilots, and supported public safety teams in the creation of Operations Manuals.

Our training team can use this experience to help first responders develop their piloting skills and build playbooks tailored for their specific requirements. 

HELIGUY.com™ is a trusted DJI Partner and has a vast inventory of drones and sensors to help support the work of police forces and other first responders 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.

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


Arrange a Meeting

Arrange a Meeting with HELIGUY.com™

Book a meeting to discuss your projects requirements, schedule product demonstrations and get your questions answered.

Matty Cairns

Public Safety, Media

Frequently Asked Questions

Common Questions About The Police's Use Of Drones

Why do police use drones?

The police use drones for a range of purposes, including assisting with searches for missing people, catching criminals, reconstructing crash scenes, collecting evidence, monitoring crowds, and accessing situational awareness to improve incident response and improve officer safety. 

Do the police have to comply with existing regulations and legislation?

Yes they do. The emergency services need to work within the existing legislation and specific regulations in respect of drone use. Their drone pilots also need to be properly trained and certified.

Are police using drones to spy on me?

No. Police use drones to support lawful policing purposes. The drone isn't always recording and any data recorded will only be retained if there is a specific requirement.