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Building and managing a successful public safety UAS program: Practical guidance and lessons learned from the early adopters

NCJ Number
Date Published
68 pages

This final report to the National Institute of Justice provides an overview of small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS) technology; it also discusses topics including the obstacles to early adoption of sUAS technology, study group agency and sUAS program profiles, gaining political and community support, UAS policies and procedures, selection of an Unmanned Aircraft System, UAS program reporting and data collection, lessons learned from early adopters, and the future of UAS technology in public safety.


In this final report to the National Institute of Justice, the authors examine the possibilities for cost savings, improved efficiency, and increased operational capabilities of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for law enforcement and public safety agencies. The report is intended to serve as a resource for public safety UAS program managers, with or without prior aviation experience, and addresses the increasing use of small UAS (sUAS) for law enforcement and public safety purposes. It provides an overview of sUAS technology and its possible applications; outlines major obstacles that early adopting agencies have encountered when developing their UAS programs; provides a brief description of each of the agencies in the study; addresses a critical initial step in developing an sUAS program, which is to gain political and community support, describing how each of the agencies in the study gained support and provides guidance on the topic. The report also outlines major areas to address in an agency’s UAS operations manual and offers some examples about how the studied agencies conduct their operations; it highlights some points of consideration when acquiring unmanned aircraft, providing some resources to use as guides; discusses the critical importance of data collection and how data can be used to support a successful UAS program, noting federal, state, and agency reporting requirements, and recommends what data agencies should capture during UAS operations. The report offers lessons learned from early adopters of the technology and discusses the future of UAS technology in public safety. At the end of the report, a glossary provides a listing of key definitions for aviation and unmanned aircraft operations along with other appendices that provide other documents such as report forms, training schedules, and database templates, among other resources.

Date Published: January 1, 2019