By Mark Bond, professor of criminal justice at American Military University.

In Tijuana, Mexico, the local police are using unarmed drone aircraft equipped with video cameras as part of their increased patrol presence. These low-altitude and small unmanned aircraft are stealth and quiet in flight because they use lithium polymer batteries (LiPo), which gives them approximately 20 minutes of flight time before battery packs need to be changed and re-charged.

These drones allow the Tijuana police to patrol areas without announcing their presence. They also give police a tactical advantage because drone operators can provide timely and accurate reports to responding patrol officers.

Tijuana Chief of Police Alejandro Lares wants to use the patrol drones to prevent crime in his city. Chief Lares has stated that he is not hiding the drones from the public and wants anyone who lives or visits the city to know that they will be safe because the police are watching day and night with the drones. The drone cameras are capable of night-vision operations so Chief Lares is promising 24/7 drone police patrol coverage when his fleet of drones are fully operational.

At this point, they are still experimenting and working out policies and tactics for how best to use the drone platforms for observation and crime prevention. The Tijuana 3D Robotics drones can be programmed to fly a specific pattern or manually flown by a trained operator. Chief Lares stated that one drone is equivalent to 20 police officers patrolling. As the Tijuana experiment continues, early signs indicate that Chief Lares is correct in the fact that his agency is experiencing quicker response times to crimes because of the drone’s capability of offering real-time observation and reporting.

U.S. Law Enforcement Drone Possibilities

The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agency has deployed unarmed and unmanned drones along the U.S. and Mexican border. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has given permission to the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agency to use unarmed and unmanned military Predator drones for observation, but have restricted the flight area to the border areas for monitoring only.

Chaotic Moon Studios is a mobile software and design and development company from Austin, Texas. They have experimented with an unmanned drone carrying Taser technology that can deploy a non-lethal stunning shock to a suspect. The combining of these technologies has a lot of promise for domestic law enforcement patrol. Such technology could be used by the Department of Corrections to patrol prison exercise yards and stop violence when it occurs, without having to deploy deadly force to stop a prison fight or riot.

U.S. Laws on Small Unmanned Commercial Aircraft

On March 6, 2014, National Safety Transportation Board (NTSB) Law Judge Patrick Geraghty ruled that the FAA policy banning the commercial operation of unmanned aircraft (drones) is unenforceable. The ruling effectively lifts the ban on commercial operation of small unmanned drone and aircraft that meet the description of a model aircraft or helicopter.

This ruling now opens the door for departments wishing to experiment with using small unmanned drones under 400 feet to enhance patrol procedures in their jurisdictions. The FAA even admits that they have struggled to enforce their ban on small unmanned commercial aircraft. The FAA did respond to the ruling stating that they would have a formal policy in place for these aircraft by the end of the year.

As technologies progress that could benefit U.S. domestic law enforcement efforts, U.S. lawmakers will have to weigh in with concerns over privacy issues and the pending new FAA policy on unmanned drones flying over American national airspace. Here is a map of all U.S. Drone Legislation by state.

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Mark Bond has worked in law enforcement and has been a firearms trainer for more than 29 years. His law enforcement experience includes the military, local, state, and federal levels as a police officer and criminal investigator. Mark obtained a BS and MS in Criminal Justice, and M.Ed in Educational Leadership w/ Summa Cum Laude Honors. As a lifelong learner, he is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in education with a concentration in distance education. Mark is currently an assistant professor of criminal justice at American Military University American Public University and is one of the faculty directors in the School of Public Service & Health. You can contact him at MBond(at)