In other parts of the country, drones have been used to locate teenage runaways and identify illegal fireworks displays during Fourth of July holiday.
“Public safety departments acquire these drones for different reasons, and they could be using them for different applications,” said Gettinger.
Currently, the FAA has strict rules for operating a drone legally, including distance from airports, flying under 400 feet, during the day, within sight of the operator and not over a crowd of people.
“Many police departments have applied for waivers, so they’re able to fly at night,” said Gettinger.
Most of the drones in use are outfitted with cameras.
“Drones are a very dynamic and versatile platform — they can carry a lot of different equipment. That’s part of the appeal of drones.”
In addition, it’s feasible departments would want to use drones in cases where human officers would be at risk.
“It’s possible over the coming years these payloads could evolve,” he said.
“A number of states have banned police departments from arming drones, or using drones for purposes like surveillance or intruding on a person’s private property without a warrant,” said Gettinger.
Virginia departments using drones include the following:
Albemarle County Sheriff’s Office;
Bedford County Fire Department;
Fairfax County Fire and Rescue;
Harrisonburg Police Department;
Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office;
Russell County Sheriff’s Office;
Stafford County Sheriff’s Office;
York County Emergency Management Agency.
Maryland agencies using drones include the Cecil County Sheriff’s Office and Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Department.
Drones cannot be legally flown in D.C. or within 15 miles of Reagan National Airport, according to FAA restritions.