Report: Number Of U.S. Public Safety Agencies Continues To Climb

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — A growing number of public safety agencies in the United States are adding unmanned aircraft to their tools of the trade.

A chart showing public safety agencies that have purchased a drone divided by type. Photo courtesy of Bard College.

Nearly 350 agencies reportedly own a drone, according to the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College. Among them are two agencies in North Dakota: the Northeast Region UAS Unit based in Grand Forks and the Burleigh County Sheriff’s Department in Bismarck.

The Grand Forks unit started in 2012 as a research endeavor between the University of North Dakota and the Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Department. Since its inception, the unit has been deployed to photograph crime and accident scenes, search for missing persons and suspects, and monitor traffic.

The edge such technology brings to public safety officials has continued to boost its popularity across the country.

A graphic showing the type of drones purchased by public safety agencies. Photo courtesy of Bard College.

“Our research suggests that at least 347 state and local police, sheriff, fire, and emergency units have acquired drones in the past several years,” CSD writes on its website. “More acquisitions took place in 2016 than in the previous years combined, and the pace of acquisitions shows no signs of slowing down.”

The number of agencies employing drones is just one set of figures presented in the Center’s report titled “Drones at Home: Public Safety Drones.” By analyzing media pieces and public records, researchers at the Center pieced together a database of which public safety agencies are flying what drones.

A chart showing the estimated number of public agencies owning drones in each state. Photo courtesy of Bard College.

Diving into the data, the most frequent purchasers of drones were sheriff’s departments, which represented 35 percent of agencies cited in the report. Fire departments followed with 28 percent.

A large majority of the agencies acquired their drones in 2016 and the most popular brand purchased among all agencies by far was Chinese manufacturer DJI. Of the 347 departments, the Center determined a drone make and model for 315.  

More than 200 of the departments owned at least one DJI drone, with the most popular model being the DJI Phantom. In all, 23 manufacturers were represented among department drone choices.

As far as where the drones are flying, Texas lead the group with 28 agencies purchasing drones for public safety use, followed by California at 23 and Alabama rounding out the top three with 20 agencies.

To read more about the Center for the Study of the Drone’s report and view an interactive map with agency locations, click here.