sUAS and Public Safety

sUAS used for public safety purposes are unmanned aircraft systems that weigh no more than 55 pounds including their payload or onboard technology systems.

Types of UAS used by police

The types of sUAS used by police include quadcopters, hexacopters, fixed wing, and unmanned helicopters.

Credit: Police sUAS, photo courtesy of AeroVironment, Inc.

Police sUAS
Photo credit: AeroVironment, Inc.

3. Unmanned helicopter2

Unmanned Helicopter
Photo credit: CNET

2. Fixed wing2

Fixed Wing
Photo credit: Mesa County Sheriff's Office

4. Quadcopter2

Photo credit: York Regional Police

Focus on the Field

What types of sUAS for public safety are police departments using?

The Arlington (TX) Police Department Aviation Unit has purchased two sUAS:

  • a Leptron Avenger sUAS, designed as a small version of a traditional helicopter, which can be equipped with a larger batter and can fly in 40 mph winds.
  • a Leptron Rapidly Deployable Aerial Surveillance System (RDASS) to survey storm damage.

The Mesa County (CO) Sheriff’s Office Unmanned Aerial System Team has acquired:

  • a Falcon UAV fixed-wing sUAS that can also fly for longer periods, approximately 20-40 minutes longer than most other sUAS currently in use by law enforcement.

Why is law enforcement interested in sUAS for public safety?

Law enforcement is interested in using sUAS for public safety because of its low cost when compared to manned aircraft, portability which allows for rapid deployment, and its various public safety and operational applications.

Low Cost

Of approximately 18,000 police agencies in the U.S., less than 200 can afford to acquire a helicopter. sUAS can fulfill many of the same functions of a manned helicopter for 1/10th of the cost. Training, operating, and storage costs for sUAS are also a fraction of the cost.

Portability & Rapid Deployment

sUAS can be removed from storage, assembled and launched in minutes. 

Public Safety & Operations Applications

There are many public safety and operation applications including traffic crash reconstruction, support of fire operations, disaster response, and officer safety to name only a few.

The co-production of public safety

Small unmanned aircraft systems have the potential to greatly enhance law enforcement operations. From search and rescue to accident scene investigation to protecting officer safety in active shooter situations, sUAS offer a wide range of potential operational improvements.

However, law enforcement agencies interested in leveraging UAS technology in their departments must consider the needs, fears, and concerns of their communities. The co-production of public safety is key to the success of any sUAS program. In addition to community considerations there are important legal, regulatory, and safety considerations.

Harnessing sUAS capabilities for public safety requires at a minimum:

A pledge from law enforcement to operate the technology transparently. Community understanding, support and willingness to co-produce public safety is key.

Compliance with the law, regulatory compliance, and the appropriate training and skills to operate the technology in a safe manner.

The following guidelines address these important issues in greater detail:

Police Foundation sUAS Resources



Comprehensive guidance on all aspects of UAS use in public safety



Key considerations in sUAS and public safety in visual format


5 Things

5 Things to Know About sUAS in Law Enforcement

Fact Sheet

Why is law enforcement interested in sUAS?