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How to fund a police drone

If you are looking to add an unmanned aerial system to your law enforcement agency, check out this guide to funding options for drone acquisitions


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Police and other law enforcement agencies across the U.S. are seeing drones as another valuable asset in their crime fighting and first response toolbox. Over the past few years, law enforcement has used drones for search and rescue missions, criminal pursuit and surveillance, crowd monitoring, drug interdiction, accident investigations, inmate escapes and crime scene analysis.  

Finding the funding to cover the purchase of the equipment, accessories and staff training can be challenging. Here’s a variety of grant and other funding options to consider that won’t put a strain on your department’s budget.

Homeland Security Funding

Police officers survey the scene via a drone at a Wells Fargo Bank, Friday, July 7, 2017 in Marietta, Ga.(AP Photo/Mike Stewart)
Police officers survey the scene via a drone at a Wells Fargo Bank, Friday, July 7, 2017 in Marietta, Ga.(AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Homeland Security funding is currently the most widely used grant source for police drones. Consider applying for Homeland Security Grants if your equipment will be used for search and rescue, crowd monitoring, bomb investigation, domestic or international terrorism events that threaten your community.  Most of these federal grants are received through your state’s homeland security or emergency management agency, but decisions on the uses of these funds are based on local planning. Grant applications for equipment that will be used as a regional asset may be received more favorably. 

Byrne Justice Assistance Grants

Justice Assistance Grants (JAG) are the largest sources of grant funding to support law enforcement equipment and training. Many local municipalities across the country receive a local JAG allocation directly from the federal government based on their share of their state’s three-year violent crime average. If your county or city is a local JAG recipient, encourage your grant administrators to earmark a portion of the funding for your drone equipment and training.

Each state and U.S. territory also receives an annual JAG award for grants to local and state agencies that don’t qualify for the local allocations. Reach out to your State Administering Agency (SAA) representative to discuss your needs and inquire about the next application period.

Federal Highway Traffic Safety Grants

Planning to use the drone for accident investigations? Then your state’s highway traffic safety funds would be a great source. Federal dollars are passed down to states through the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. Section 402 State and Community Highway Safety Grant Program has numerous focus areas, including reducing accidents and enhancing emergency services. States typically offer grants to local law enforcement agencies through a competitive application process. Contact your state transportation department to inquire about how to apply for these funds.

HIDTA and Project Safe Neighborhood Funding

Is your agency part of a multi-agency task force in a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) or Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) district? If so, drones can be a valuable asset in your drug interdiction and violent crime reduction strategy. Approach your task force leadership and encourage them to include funding for drones in their budget request. Competitive HIDTA and PSN funding is available annually.

Corporate and Private Foundations

Most large corporations across the U.S. have foundations or “giving programs” offering grants or donations based on their established priorities. Often, the priority is supporting the community where they are located. Contact the managers of corporate offices in your area to inquire about this funding. Also search the corporations’ website to find information about their grant or community giving programs.

Big box stores such as Target, Walmart and Sam’s Club offer grants to support public safety and community wellbeing. Firehouse Subs also provides grants for law enforcement and first responder equipment across the country. National freight railroad companies CSX, Union Pacific and BNSF administer grants focusing on keeping the communities safe where their lines are operating. Reach out to your local bank, utility company or grocery store – many of them have grant programs operating within their corporate affiliate.

Private community foundations operating in your area may have funding available based on your location or public safety mission. The Foundation Center is a great source for locating community and other private funders.

Asset Forfeiture Funds

Many police agencies are using asset forfeiture dollars to support drone equipment, accessories and training. Speak with your department leadership and encourage them to consider allocating dollars from this fund to cover your purchase.

Final tips: Know your grant restrictions

Some federal grant programs list drones under the “controlled equipment” category and place certain restrictions on using federal funding to cover the purchase. The restrictions have been lifted or relaxed in the last year, but understand and follow the new guidelines set out by FEMA and the Bureau of Justice Assistance when using these grant sources for your purchase. You may need a waiver approved by the federal agency justifying your need for the equipment and documenting that privacy and other controls are in place to prevent misuse.

Most federal grants application periods occur in the spring and summer-so, now is a great time to look for funding. Continue to monitor the links noted in the article for upcoming deadlines. Grants.gov is also an excellent source for keeping on top of federal grant announcements or forecasted grants.  

Persistence, following the application guidelines and drafting a strong justification letter will land you the drone you need for your important policing and public safety work.

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