I'm a cop and need help making a drone, as well as some info

Hello all,

I am a Deputy Sheriff in TN and I want to make a drone I can use on duty, to search for people who run. I would like to use a small FLIR cam on it. Any advice?


I also hear alot about FAA this and FAA that, my question is why and how can FAA say anything at all?

When I was a kid I use to fly R/C model aircraft and FAA did say anything. Never heard anything, what's the diffrence??


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  • Policeman wanting to break the law to catch law breakers.

    Move along, nothing new here.


  • I have recently had a number of conversations with the FAA regarding commercial use of a UAS in the United States air space, and whether they truly have the legal authority to stop people from doing it (this is still being debated and sorted out in court), they can certainly make your life difficult. If you are strictly a hobbyist, read as not taking any money to fly, and as long as you follow the hobby rules of distance from airports and ceiling height you will be fine. Go ahead, put a camera, FLIR, or anything else on your UAS but only as a hobbyist. I have been flying various 'toys' for years but where I began to get questioned was when I was flying during work hours. I didn't directly take money to fly but the FAA doesn't see it that way. I was on the clock for my normal work day and happened to be flying. That said, if you intend to use your UAS while on duty, they will consider this a commercial or state sponsored venture. You are in a good spot however, because you can apply for a certificate of authorization and likely be eligible as long as there are no state or local laws that counter it. Per the FAA:

    Certificate of Authorization (COA). This authorization is an approved exemption that allows recognized public entities, i.e. federal, state, and municipal government related agencies and organizations, to self certify their aircraft and conduct operations in accordance with the certificate after approval. The FAA reviews the operation to ensure it is in the public interest, safe, is operated by only the proponent, and does not significantly impact the safety of other air traffic or persons on the ground. To issue a COA normally takes about 60 business days once the proponent completes application and verifies its status as a public entity.

    If you really want to fly a UAS on duty my suggestion is go to obtain departmental sponsorship and complete the required applications from the FAA. Keep in mind, and I believe it has been mentioned in this thread before, you will need to be using a commercially available UAS and not one that you might build at home.

    Hope that my experience helps a little bit!
  • Will,

    I admire your desire to perform your job better using fewer public resources. More public servants should emulate your example.

    Here is my two cents. Someday FAA may get their act together. Expert or not, nobody knows when that will happen or how it will affect the non-hobby use of multirotors (you). Until that time, you should become a hobbiest. Build your own multirotor. The experience you get flying (and crashing and rebuilding) will be worth more than any expert's advice. It really can become an inexpensive but rewarding hobby. By the time that police agencies are authorized to fly drones, you will have no need for $20,000-$50,000 gold plated GSA-listed drones being marketed to agencies.

    • Thank you all so much for the help and info. One of the main reasons I would like to do this is mostly for officer safety. I.E. lets say your in the woods looking for more then one suspect, if you had a drone wih FLIR you could see them before you put an officer in danger. You could see if they were setting up an ambush. Lots of officers have been killed in that kind of situation. Look at ODMP.ORG its updated every day.

      The Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP)
      The Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP) is dedicated to remembering all law enforcement officers who have fallen in the line of duty.
  • Hi Will,

    Directly answering your questions; the most straight forward route would be something like an IRIS from our friends at 3DR: http://3drobotics.com/iris/ along with a cheapie night vision camera: http://www.sonicelectronix.com/item_40484_Crimestopper-SV-6704.IR.h...  You might check out hobbyking.com too, as they have a bunch of other, less expensive, but more labor intensive models available.

    As far as the FAA goes, they regulate aerial drones just like any other aircraft because they are responsible for public safety in the US skies.  Presently, aside from the military, Customs and Border Patrol is the only agency permitted by the (FAA) to operate unmanned aerial vehicles regularly inside the country.

    As a result, other law enforcement agencies that lack their own drone fleet are increasingly looking to the CBP to carry out missions on their behalf, especially since the Defense Department is prohibited from using its drones in the US for law enforcement activities.

    You might contact CBP and make a request, but I think it's a long-shot.  They typically deploy their drone assets for mass border enforcement and drug interdiction operations.

    Good hunting.


    • Actually there are many more agencies using the drones and I am talking local police departments. Will send you a private message.

  • This is a two part question and it looks like most people are focusing only on the second part.

    1) You are correct about the FLIR being expensive, but I saw they had some models at about $2,500 now, so it may not be that bad.

    As far as the aircraft, I would choose something with some built in redundancy like a hex or octo configuration. This generally means it's going to be heavier, need bigger batteries, and cost you more. Honestly if I was flying around a $3K camera I would probably spend no less than $2K on the aircraft not including the FLIR camera. Probably more.

    You should get a flight controller that can reliably fly the thing for you, so basically it will hover in place via GPS until you push the sticks. I suppose your not much interested in playing around, and will likely be distracted and have to let the thing loiter for a minute while you talk on the radio, look around, etc. That said, I would avoid the DJI controllers and look at 3DRobotics. Or like someone said, buy a completed ready to fly unit from someone in the business.

    2) Legal - I'm not a lawyer so my legal opinion is worth squat, but it's a gray area for sure. I'm sure you union rep or district attorney will have something to say about it, so just go ask them.

  • T3

    Will, for information on actually doing this legally go here:


    Your department needs a certificate of authorization from the FAA. Your state may have laws limiting such activities as well, but you'd have to look in to that. 

    I would recommend buying a turn-key product, not a DIY project. Without some further guidance it might be difficult to obtain that waiver, I would get in touch with another department that has done so successfully for info. 

    • Actually, the FAA "claims" you need that COA. However there exists no statute or regulation that supports that claim. That said, if you don't want the FAA bothering you, apply for the COA.

      And Ted, you make a very valid point re: state laws.

      State's can regulate their own public agencies without regard to FAA regs. Indeed, the FAA is only permitted to enforce regulations against "public" aircraft that happy to apply to both "public" and "civil" aircraft. (Basically Part 91). The FAA has no say in pilot certification or airworthiness certification for "public" aircraft. Technically, (and believe it or not) a "public" aircraft can be flown without an airworthiness certificate and by a non-pilot. 

      • Hmm. I can't find a way to edit a comment. Obviously I meant "happen," not "happy" in the post above.

This reply was deleted.


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