Over only a few years’ time, Washington State Patrol (the Patrol) has built a drone fleet of 111 drones. The Patrol says that it uses these small drones for crash investigations and fatality scenes, and not for surveillance purposes. Detective Sergeant Clint Thomas said that roughly 100 state troopers and detective across the state are now trained to operate camera-equipped drones. All 111 drones are made by DJI Technology (DJI), the drone industry’s leading manufacturer, some of which are high-end consumer models while others are commercial enterprise models. Thomas said, “We’re making a big difference in the time that we take to document that scene and get the roadway clear. It’s a little more work on the back end in the office putting it together through the software, but you’re saving a lot of time out on the roadway. That was the driving force—save time on freeways, getting those cleared up to get traffic moving again.”

For example, Thomas provided an example of a compact-two car collision—an accident scene can be mapped in ten minutes with a drone compared to a half-hour to an hour using traditional methods. The Patrol is looking into other uses besides accident reconstruction such as wildfire monitoring. The Patrol is not permitted to take video or use surveillance using the drones pursuant to the agency’s written policies. The Patrol consulted with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) through its state chapter as it developed its drone use policy. However, there is still concern that even with the best, most restrictive drone policy, an average citizen has no recourse to enforce it.

This fleet is one of largest, if not the largest, drone fleets owned by a state or local government across the country.