police drone flying in the sky

An article by Dronelife shares a state report revealed a dramatic increase in drone flights despite modest budget growth.

The state of Minnesota reported that the number of times police agencies in the state deployed drones without a warrant nearly quadrupled over the past four years, from 1,171 such missions in 2020 to 4,326 flights in 2023.

According to data released earlier this month, over the same time period, the amount of money spent on police agency drone programs increased only slightly, from about $922,411 to about $1,065,677.

The annual cost of police agency UAV programs had fallen dramatically in 2022 to about $646,531. However, over the next two years the same costs rose by about 65% to the level seen in 2023.

The latest data is contained in a legislative report, released by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) on the police agencies’ use of unmanned aerial vehicles in the year 2023.

Under state law, beginning in 2020 all of Minnesota’s law enforcement agencies that maintain or use an UAV are required to report the following data to the BCA by January 15 regarding the prior calendar year:

  • The number of times a UAV was deployed without a search warrant
  • The date of each deployment
  • The authorized use for each deployment
  • The total cost of the agency’s UAV program.

The BCA had developed a submittal form that enables law enforcement agencies to report data on their UAV usage in a uniform manner, making it easier for lawmakers and the general public to track police drone usage in the state over time.

In its most recent report for the year 2023, the BCA collected data from 99 police and sheriff’s departments and other law enforcement agencies. The report noted that that police agency usage of drones in circumstances where a warrant is not required has risen steadily in the four years that data has been collected.

At about $124,713, the Minnesota State Patrol had the highest-cost drone program in 2023, while the St. Paul Police Department has the second-highest cost program, with $100,000 spent on drones and related equipment.

Why Police are Flying Drones

Of the 4,326 UAV warrantless missions that police agencies in the state in 2023 almost twice as many flights were for training or public relations purposes as those flown in emergency situations.

Last year, the most common purpose given for conducting a warrantless drone flight was “flying over a public area for officer training or public relations purposes.” This was the reason given for a total of 1,986 missions flown. The second most common purpose for warrantless police drone flights, at 1,031 missions, was “during or in the aftermath of an emergency situation that involves the risk of death or bodily harm to a person.”

Other common purposes given for warrantless drone flights were “to collect information for crash reconstruction purposes after a serious or deadly collision occurring on a public road,” 603 missions, and “to collect information from a public area if there is a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity,” 398 missions.

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Be sure to visit the BWU Technology Partnerships Initiative website to learn more about how our NEOFIX program drives economic growth, promotes policy and infrastructure to improve drone safety and efficiency in various industries, and ensures that drone technology is being used responsibly.