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??


                                  Thank You,

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I can could contact you I can tell you how to do it! I work for the University of alaska and I work with the Alaska State Troopers and they fly them here. Message me if you would like more info.


hey Will im no legal expert either but I have done some research on this as well (I want to use this for crop surveying with a FLIR camera) anyways the FAA requires anyone operating a UAS to get what they call a certificate of authorization or COA and fly a certified system if you are making any money doing this which you would because you would be on the clock. that's what ive came up with hope ive helped and good luck!

This would be a RAPS airframe and as such will be required to undergo testing at DHS. DHS has already said nothing with less than 1000 hours flown on type to go through the process. So.... build, test and document.

You should take a look at http://dronelawjournal.com/

This guy is a lawyer and was recently featured on the local news after an 'off-duty' newsman was caught flying a DJI Phantom near a fatal accident scene in Hartford, CT.  

[Not intended to be legal advice.]

Hi Will:

As a law enforcement officer you are considered a "state actor," and constitutional considerations apply to your use of a drone while on duty. Under the Supreme Court ruling in Kyllo v. United States, 533 US 27 (2001), the Supreme court held:

"Where, as here, the Government uses a device that is not in general public use, to explore details of a private home that would previously have been unknowable without physical intrusion, the surveillance is a Fourth Amendment "search," and is presumptively unreasonable without a warrant."

The device that was not in "general public use" in that case was a thermal imaging device, which is still not a device in "general public use" and would still require a warrant.

Drones, however are in general public use now. So arguably unless there is a statute that states otherwise, no warrant would be required for the use of the drone itself. That said, the FLIR you wish to use is still not "in general public use," so a warrant would still be required.


Peter Sachs


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 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.

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.


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.

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