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New Report Finds 1,500+ Public Safety Agencies Use Drones, 70% in Law Enforcement

BY Zacc Dukowitz
19 March 2020

Bard’s Center for the Study of the Drone just released the third edition of its Public Safety Drones report.

The new edition finds that at least 1,578 public safety agencies now use drones, up from 910 when Bard released its second edition in May of 2018. (The “at least” is because the report doesn’t include public safety agencies, such as those at the federal level, with undisclosed drone programs.)

The numbers in the three reports paint a picture of extreme growth:

Although adoption has slowed somewhat between the 2nd and 3rd editions relative to the explosion we see between the 1st and 2nd, there is still a clear trend of growth.

For the purposes of the report, a public safety agency includes any state and local police, sheriff’s offices, fire departments, and emergency response units.

A Note on the Data

In all likelihood, there are probably many more public safety agencies using drones than reflected in the numbers above, since the report only includes those agencies that:

  • Publicly disclose their drone programs
  • Have in-house drone programs (that is, any use of drones-for-hire is not reflected in the report)

Key Takeaways from the Report

Here are some key findings from Bard’s third Public Safety Drones report:

Finding 1: Law Enforcement Are Primary Adopters

70% of public safety agencies using drones are in law enforcement

This trend has been consistent throughout all three editions of Bard’s reporting on public safety drone use.

Cities like Los Angeles have seen huge local movements spring up when considering drone programs for law enforcement, with citizens rallying around privacy and surveillance concerns.

Tom Agos of the Gurnee Police Department in Gurnee, IL uses a drone to assess flood damage

While it’s true that law enforcement uses drones to collect aerial data on developing situations, there are also several other uses case that are not as well known, like collecting visual information after a natural disaster or creating detailed orthomosaic maps of public places to be used in case of fire or an active shooter scenario.

Want to learn more? Check out our article on 6 Ways Police Departments Use Drones in Their Work.

Finding 2: City and County Public Safety Agencies Make Up Vast Majority of Drone Users

A whopping 96% of drone programs are located in city and county agencies

Here’s the breakdown:

  • City drone programs make up 56% (885 out of 1,578)
  • County drone programs make up 40% (629 out of 1,578)
  • State drone programs make up just 4% (64 out of 1,578)

Note: Federal programs don’t appear in the data, so we assume they are all undisclosed.

Derrick Ward of the Los Angeles Fire Department conducting a demo during a period of intense fires

Finding 3: Prosumer Drones Dominate Public Safety Agencies

90% of the drones public safety agencies use are prosumer/consumer DJI models

This makes sense, because consumer drones like the Mavic 2 Pro are priced within the means of a public safety agency budget, and they also don’t require special, intensive training to master.

The Mavic 2 Pro

When compared to a professional drone like Intel’s Falcon 8+, which runs between $25,000 and $30,000 (the actual price isn’t public, in part because it varies depending on the specific add-ons you get), you can see why prosumer options are attractive.

According to Bard’s report, DJI’s prosumer drones make up 90% of all the drones used by public safety agencies, and the top three models used are all DJI models:

  • DJI Phantom (33%, or 336 out of 1,030)
  • DJI Inspire (28%, or 291 out of 1,030)
  • DJI Mavic (24%, or 246 out of 1,030)

But . . . What If Chinese Drones Get Banned?

If you’ve been reading the news lately, this data might concern you.

Over the last few years, and especially the last few months, there have been heated debates at the federal level concerning the use of Chinese drones (“Chinese” being a catchall that often just means “DJI”).

At the center of the argument is the concern that drones from China may be sharing sensitive data with the Chinese government. According to a recent TechCrunch article, it looks like a federal ban on foreign drones has already been drafted, and could go into effect any day.

While the ban would only apply to drones used by federal departments and agencies, there could be long-term implications for public safety agencies as well.

Want to learn more about the impact drones have had on public safety work?

First, read yesterday’s post about the work currently being done with drones to help fight the spread of coronavirus, and then check out these articles:

Want to Start a Drone Program at Your Public Safety Organization?

Feeling inspired?

The good news is that if you’d like to build a drone program at your public safety organization there are now many other agencies who have already done it, which means there are plenty of models to follow.

If you’re looking for resources to help you get started, these articles might provide a good jumping-off point:

A drone helped Douglas County Search and Rescue find two missing hikers

Excited about the growth of drone programs at public safety agencies, or want to start your own? Hop into this thread on the UAV Coach community forum to share your thoughts.

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