Drones Will Revolutionize Law Enforcement and Corrections


Drones are being used by a variety of law enforcement agencies. But what’s coming may revolutionize police and correctional operations.


The police cruiser responds to a call for a violent crime. On top of the vehicle is a drone capable of staying aloft for long periods of time. At the push of a button, the arriving officer sets the drone in flight to record both sound and visuals. The officer has the capacity to control the drone manually, sending it where it’s needed most.

In another part of the city, a high-speed chase of a felony suspect is just beginning. A drone is dispatched to follow the vehicle. The driver bails out and the drone follows him to a dumpster where he’s hiding.

A prison sends drones up during yard time. There are rumors of violence and the drone is there to record events closer and clearer than fixed cameras. The suspects know the drone is recording them and what they are saying.

A former inmate sex offender on electronic monitoring leaves his home and breaks curfew. A drone responds to the GPS coordinates embedded in his ankle monitor.  It follows him to a playground where children are playing. Units are dispatched.

All the above is currently fiction but it’s not far from reality. If Amazon can develop the capacity to send a package to a customer and have a drone navigate the complexities of people or obstructions and return home safely, the same can be created for justice agencies.

What’s Possible

According to Craig Cohen, Product Specialist for Drones at B&H (a government and personal electronics supplier based in New York), the flight time for police drones is thirty to thirty-five minutes for rotary aircraft and two hours (or 100 miles) for fixed wing devices. There are drones that can take off via rotary blades and transform themselves to fixed-wing aircraft.

Cohen suggests that the use of drones is faster, safer and more efficient than using helicopters. The demonstrations he arranged for law enforcement shows how drones can handle smoke, multiple vehicles, people and chaotic situations. Drones can also identify police officers to keep them safe.



There are suitcase-sized devices that can identify drones in the area and immediately ascertain their data. This can be important since criminals and gangs have the capacity to use drones for their own purposes.

Drones and Shot Spotter

Louisville, Ky., is vying to become the first city in the country to use autonomous drones to respond to the sound of gunfire.

The city has applied for a special program the Federal Aviation Administration is running, where it will give a handful of cities temporary permission to get around long-standing drone rules in order to run pilot projects. Those rules, which operators typically have to get individual waivers to get around, include flying drones outside the operator’s line of sight, flying at night and flying above people.

All of those rules would make it pretty difficult for a city to do what Louisville wants to do. The city has ShotSpotter sensors spread throughout its urban fabric, listening for gunshots. When such a noise is picked up, and interpreted by ShotSpotter’s analysts to be gunfire and not a similar sound, a notification is sent to police who can respond to the scene.

And the drones wouldn’t follow people, cars or other objects. That capability exists within autonomous drones, but for now Seidt said it’s not part of the city’s plans. Remote operators would have the ability to maneuver the cameras in order to capture more footage of something, Government Technology.

Killer Drones

Drones are being developed with the capacity to destroy other drones interfering with firefighting and other emergency situations, LA Times.

LASD Drone (Courtesy LASD Media)

The New Police Motorcycles?

Dubai police are testing the use of a passenger drone (hover bikes) to respond to incidents, TheDrive.


As to costs, DOJ offered a detailed analysis, DOJ, stating, that small UAS (Unmanned Aircraft System) weighing up to 55 pounds can have much lower operational and maintenance costs than the manned aircraft typically used by law enforcement. The report cites an estimate that UAS can operate at $25 per hour versus $650 per hour for manned aircraft operations. As the technology matures, this minimal cost may shrink even further, making UAS available to even more law enforcement agencies as a lower cost alternative to manned aircraft.

Drones for Everyone

An overview of other government agencies and their use of drones is available at Gov Tech.


The privacy issue has been discussed in other forums and can be encapsulated briefly; drones suggest a Big Brother environment that will be disproportionately used in low income and minority neighborhoods. Facial recognition and predictive policing controversies complicate the issue.


The expanded use of drones in law enforcement is inevitable. According to one survey, most police agencies either have drones or are considering them, Bard College.

Some sources suggest that criminals, organized crime, drug smugglers or terrorists are already using drones thus it’s imperative that law enforcement is ready, Brookings.

The US Department of Justice has issued general guidelines, DOJ with a more comprehensive analysis cited above.

Police agencies are moving slowly, using drones for search and rescue or to investigate accident or crime scenes.

Drones, however, have the capacity to be a part of everyday life. We will have to sort through the endless legal and privacy issues but I assume that sooner rather than later, drones will be a daily tool of every police and correctional department in the country.

We once thought that body-worn cameras were beyond the technological, privacy and fiscal capacities of justice agencies, but nearly half currently have them, Bureau of Justice Statistics. The same will apply to drones.


Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. – Retired federal senior spokesperson. Thirty-five years of award-winning public relations for national and state criminal justice agencies. Interviewed multiple times by every national news outlet. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Services, National Crime Prevention Council. Former Adjunct Associate Professor of criminology and public affairs-University of Maryland, University College. Former advisor to presidential and gubernatorial campaigns. Former advisor to the “McGruff-Take a Bite Out of Crime” national media campaign. Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins University. You can contact me at [email protected]