Despite Calls to Ban DJI Drones, Police Departments Are Still Buying Lots of Them
BY Zacc Dukowitz30 August 2023
Police departments across the country are facing bans on DJI drones.
In Florida, public safety agencies have been forced to ground their drone fleets due to a new law restricting drone usage to only those six drones that appear on the original Blue UAS law. In effect, the law can be seen as a DJI ban.
In Arkansas, lawmakers have enacted similar restrictions on the use of Chinese drone technology by state agencies. Other states are considering taking similar measures, and calls continue at the federal level to pass sweeping bans on DJI drones.
The state bans have led to frustration among law enforcement, since they usually have no voice in the creation of these laws despite being directly impacted by them.
The hard feelings are especially strong in Florida, where it will take an estimated $200 million to replace the DJI drones used by police departments alone, because lawmakers didn’t consider earmarking funds to support the transition to compliant technology. (Pushed by public outcry, Florida state leaders have allocated $25 million to help law enforcement replace their drones—but that’s less than 15% of the total amount needed.)
Police Departments Aren’t Phased by DJI Bans
Despite all of these calls for bans, police departments are still investing in DJI’s technology.
In Grand Rapids, MI, city leadership is close to approving a spend of $100K on new DJI drones for law enforcement, the majority of which will go to DJI drones. Specifically, the request is for six DJI Mavic Enterprise drones, two DJI Matrice 30T drones, and funds for accessories.
And in Sacramento, CA, the police department has asked for about $25,000 to pay for new drones.
These two departments don’t seem to be outliers when it comes to acquiring DJI technology despite mounting pressure not to do so. Quite the opposite—they seem to be the norm.
Most likely, two interconnected factors account for this:
- DJI makes some of the most affordable professional drones you can find.
- The U.S. drone market still can’t compete with DJI in terms of quality, price, or production volume.
Sacramento Police Department Shares Full Inventory of Drones in Budget Request for New Models
In a draft of its proposed budget that includes expenses for rifles, armored vehicles, and other “military equipment,” the Sacramento Police Department has allocated tens of thousands for DJI drones.
Here’s the list:
- 3 DJI Mavic 3 Enterprises—$18,900
- 1 DJI Avata—$1,428
- 1 DJI Mavic 3 Cine Premium Combo—1 requested at $4,999
Two things stand out here. First, only DJI drones appear on the Department’s list of new drones it wants to buy. And second, the department doesn’t actually need that many drones because it is already well stocked.
If you’re like us, you might be wondering—what does its current drone fleet look like? And how many DJI models are in it?
The good news is that, as part of sharing its requested budget, the Department also disclosed all the details about its current fleet.
Here are all the drones in the Sacramento Police Department’s current fleet:
- DJI Mavic Mini—have 6 at $400/unit ($2,400 total)
- DJI Inspire 2—have 1 at $1,200/unit ($1,200 total)
- DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual—have 35 at $5,500/unit ($192,500 total)
- DJI Matrice 300 RTK with H20T—have 1 at $14,000/unit ($14,000 total)
- DJI Mavic Pro—have 1 at $1,500/unit ($1,500 total)
- DJI M30T—in process of purchasing 1 at $13/341/unit ($13,341 total)
- Happymodel Mobula7—have 13 at $250/unit ($3,250 total)
- Holybro Kopis—have 1 at $375/unit ($375 total)
- iFlight A75—have 8 at $300/unit ($2,400 total)
- iFlight A85—have 16 at $300/unit ($4,800 total)
Analyzing this data, here are some takeaways:
- There are 83 drones total in the fleet, of which 45, or 54%, are DJI models.
- The fleet cost a total of $235,766, of which $224,941, or 95%, went to DJI models. (Only $10,825 went to other drones, despite them making up 46% of the fleet.)
- The vast majority of the drone budget went to buying 35 DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Duals at a cost of $192,500.
A screenshot from the Sacramento PD’s budget (see the full document)
Seeing these numbers, you can understand why law enforcement in Florida might be upset about suddenly having to ground their DJI drones without receiving any funding to replace them.
While DJI models may only make up about half of Sacramento’s drones, all of their high-quality commercial drones are DJI’s models. That is, all their money had been spent buying DJI technology alone.
And the Sacramento Police Department isn’t alone in this. Across the U.S., the vast majority of police departments are still using DJI drones.
According to a DRONE RESPONDER survey from 2021, 90% of public safety agencies use DJI drones. Drilling into just law enforcement, the number rose even higher, finding that 92% of law enforcement drone programs have DJI models.
Even though that data is two years old, we don’t expect that much has changed. Assuming the call for bans has led to some blowback and DJI’s dominance has dropped 10%, or even 20%—amounts that would be significant—we would be surprised if the majority of their dollars in DJI technology, even if the number of models from DJI are going down.