“People think that we’re going to drop them in backyards and spy on them — that’s not the purpose of this equipment,” he said. “We would never launch one of those systems just to patrol the city.” With support from the city and enough funding, the department could be using the aircraft by early 2019, Stokes said. The department is hoping for a fleet of five: two for SWAT and three for patrol.
The drones could be used to monitor crowds, for search-and-rescue, and to track down a suspect or a missing person.
Law enforcement agencies, including the Arlington Police Department, have been using drones for years. Other agencies using them include the Mansfield Police Department, the Houston Fire Department and the Las Vegas Metro Police Department.
Stokes said the price for the department’s preferred aerial systems range from $7,500 to more than $30,000. The low-cost models work in daytime and low-light settings. The mid-range aircraft, with thermal imaging technology, cost between $10,000 and $15,000. The most expensive, highest-tech versions specifically designed for law enforcement use, can cost more than $30,000.
Costs are coming down, Stokes said. But council member Kevin Felder, who represents southern Dallas, said he thought the drones are still pricey for their lifespans — about 400 hours in the air, according to the briefing police gave to the committee.
Limited battery life means the aircraft could be flown for 25 to 35 minutes without a battery change, Stokes said. That’s just one reason why they couldn’t replace police helicopters, he said.
For now, police just want the city’s support for operating the aircraft — budget decisions will come later, along with the technicalities of getting a license from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly in Dallas.