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Scaling law enforcement drone teams to support investigative work groups

Let’s examine an emerging need for drones to support detectives in the field and some potential solutions


Drone pilot supporting detectives during warrant search.


By Mark Lang

Law enforcement first embraced drones for documenting accident scenes. By leveraging both hardware and software, drones can quickly capture detailed information, allowing investigating officers to clear scenes more rapidly and efficiently.

Today, drones are deployed not only for patrol operations and responses to service calls but also in more specialized contexts. The development of smaller indoor drones has significantly increased their use in SWAT operations, providing valuable support during critical incidents.

However, there is a potentially overlooked application — supporting investigative work groups. Drones could significantly enhance officer safety and provide valuable information, benefiting these teams immensely.

Not all detectives have access to specialized units like Task Forces or Fugitive Apprehension Teams to execute arrest warrants immediately. Often, these responsibilities fall to the detectives who conducted the investigations, filed the cases, and authored the affidavits for the warrants. This scenario underscores an emerging need for drone support for detectives in the field. Let’s explore how drones could be employed to aid these detectives and discuss some potential solutions.

The case for supporting detectives with drones

Detectives tirelessly manage their criminal caseloads and file cases daily. Each week, they often make arrests themselves to ensure the job gets done. This crucial aspect of their work remains largely unnoticed both within their organizations and by the public, unless there is a high-profile use of force incident or a tragic event. This highlights the routine yet critical nature of their role in maintaining public safety.

Some basic considerations for detectives when executing an arrest warrant where the suspect may reside include:

  • Arrest warrant type (felony or misdemeanor)
  • Past criminal history
  • Suspects home residence
  • Size of structure
  • Location of structure
  • Criminal activity in area
  • Other persons that live in same residence
  • Floorplan available
  • Number of detectives/officers that are involved in executing warrant.

Incorporating drone technology into the strategies for executing knock and talks not only enhances the effectiveness of these operations but also significantly reduces risks to officer safety by providing the following:

  • Enhanced officer safety: Drones can scout the area ahead of officers, providing a live view of the surroundings and any potential risks without exposing officers to direct danger. This preliminary surveillance helps in planning safer approaches and retreats.
  • Real-time intelligence: Drones equipped with cameras can offer real-time video feeds to the command center and the officers on the ground. This allows teams to see who is entering and leaving the premises, monitor suspect movements within the property, and adjust their tactics based on live updates.
  • Tactical planning: With aerial views, drones can give detailed insights into the layout of the location, including possible escape routes, barriers, and strategic entry points. This information is crucial for tactical planning and can help in coordinating multi-angle approaches if necessary.
  • Evidence documentation: Drones can record high-quality video footage that may serve as evidence later. This footage can document the situation before, during, and after the knock and talk, providing an unbiased record of the events.
  • De-escalation: By having a comprehensive view and understanding of the situation, officers can make more informed decisions that might lead to de-escalation. Knowing more about the environment and the behavior of individuals inside can help officers use communication tactics that reduce the likelihood of confrontation.
  • Communication enhancement: Drones can be equipped with communication tools, such as loudspeakers, allowing officers to communicate with individuals inside a building without close physical proximity. This can be particularly useful in situations where direct communication is risky or unfeasible.

The advancements in interior drones now allow for de-escalation and 2-way communications with wanted suspects.


If the suspect does not voluntarily surrender and detectives have a warrant in hand, the next step may be an interior search. Tragedy can — and has — occurred during such searches. Detectives have been ambushed and killed while searching for suspects in their homes. Introducing an interior drone into this scenario could provide valuable information and possibly elicit a voluntary surrender due to the psychological impact and other capabilities of the drone. Real-time video of the layout and floorplan is just some of the invaluable information the drone can provide about the suspect’s location.

This information could also escalate the arrest warrant to a barricade situation. While detectives may not favor this outcome, it’s important to remember that no arrest warrant is worth risking an officer’s life. Searching locations where suspects reside is inherently dangerous for any officer, including detectives.


Deputy Sheriff launching drone from behind cover.


Funding and support

It is essential for drone teams to demonstrate the value of drones to their leadership by providing use cases that illustrate how these technologies can support various work groups. Drone teams should actively reach out to investigative groups to showcase their capabilities in assisting with arrest warrants. Collateral drone teams are becoming increasingly prevalent in law enforcement landscapes, and with proper equipment, manpower, and aircraft, these teams can operate full-time and serve as force multipliers. They enhance safety for officers and suspects alike while also garnering community support. If such programs do not currently exist within an agency, it is advisable to connect with neighboring agencies that have established drone programs and develop justifications for implementing similar resources.


Police detectives who become Part 107 certified can fly for their own cases as needed.


Positive use cases not only attract more personnel but also more equipment. Moreover, law enforcement leadership should be attentive to officers’ needs concerning personnel and aircraft. A critical but often neglected area is funding, especially the lack of recurring budgets for drones. Unfortunately, as of 2024, the primary means of purchasing drone equipment still involves robbing Peter to pay Paul. Passing the responsibility down the line to future leadership or boards of commissioners is not a sustainable solution either. Drones have become a valuable tool within the law enforcement landscape, one that officers use daily, and as such, they should be consistently funded in annual budget cycles.

Final thoughts

Each week, more SWAT teams are incorporating interior drones into their tactical operations to facilitate de-escalation and reduce incidents of force. Detectives serving felony arrest warrants stand to gain significantly from this technology as well. Agencies should consider ensuring that detectives have the same access to drone technology as SWAT and patrol operations currently do. Moreover, communities are increasingly demanding that law enforcement explore new methods to effect arrests without tragedy on either side. Drone technology can be a crucial factor in achieving this goal, simultaneously enhancing the safety of both officers and suspects and demonstrating to communities that innovative policing methods are in place.

About the author

Mark Lang retired after a 30-year career in 2022 from the Dallas Police Department. Most of his career was spent in SWAT. He is currently a Territory Account Executive for BRINC, which is a U.S. drone manufacturer which specializes in providing public safety agencies with drone programs.

NEXT: From tracking suspects to aiding in emergency responses, this video covers the diverse roles drones play in law enforcement today.