When it comes to tools for police work, most people would immediately think gun, patrol car, radio. But what about drones?
Drones are quickly becoming a widely used tool by many public safety agencies. Fire Departments, Emergency Management Services, and yes Police Departments. If you live in a large city, there’s a high chance you’ve seen police helicopters in the sky before. The cost of owning and operating a manned helicopter is high, now imagine that large noisy expensive helicopter being replaced by a much smaller, quieter, and less costly aircraft. That aircraft is a drone.
“Manned helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft are expensive to acquire, staff, and maintain. A police helicopter costs from $500,000 to $3 million to acquire, and $200-$400 an hour to fly.” -ACLU
Compare the above statement with a (rough) initial cost of $15k for the average police department UAV system, and the fact that operational costs are only the relatively small amount of electricity needed to charge the batteries as well as the salary of the pilot. There isn’t any jet fuel (cost as of 8/21/17 at LAX is $7.87 a gallon), and as of July 2017 electricity in Los Angeles is around 18¢ per kWh (for reference, charging a large drone battery with a capacity of 12,800 mAh is around 280 Wh meaning it costs roughly 4¢ to charge a 12,800 mAh battery). The numbers in that example are significantly higher than the cost for an average drone as well since the largest battery DJI offers is the TB55 at 7,660mAh. An LA Times article claims an LAPD helicopter used for a community outreach flight cost $771, which is more than the purchase cost of two TB55 batteries.
Enough about the cost. The real benefit to police departments is greater than the simple numbers. Ease of use and officer safety are the real keys.
Ease of use
The average training time for a civilian helicopter pilot is between 40-50 hours. Most people can learn to fly a GPS-stabilized drone within an hour. The setup time to deploy a drone is only a couple of minutes (check out our video below to see the deployment workflow for a Matrice 200), and it doesn’t have to be deployed from a remote location meaning a drone can be in the air monitoring a situation well before a helicopter would be able to reach the scene. All of this with a live HD picture, with optical and thermal cameras available- and it will fit in the trunk of a cruiser. See our 2017 police drone infographic!