Tips for finding grants to fund police drone programs

By James Bushey

Starting a drone program is a big undertaking and can be intimidating if you have no experience starting a new technology program. There are many considerations at every step of the journey, but one of the most basic steps is to secure funding and support.

Agencies are often strapped for cash when it comes to routine purchases, so it can be difficult to secure funding for a new technology without a proven track record.

A number of grant opportunities are available for first responders, some of which are ongoing programs.

A number of grant opportunities are available for first responders, some of which are ongoing programs.

Over 60% of public safety agencies operate on less than $ 10,000 per year, and about 23% operate a drone program on less than $ 1,000. These budget constraints are one of the main reasons why we see planes like the ANAFI or the Mavic Air being used a lot by public safety agencies. Although they were not originally designed for corporate or agency use, they are reliable and less expensive than large commercial grade systems, making them more accessible.

Here, I’ll go over some ideas and strategies for building, launching, and receiving support for a new public sector drone program.

The importance of transparency

Public sector agencies experienced in successfully launching these programs have demonstrated that reaching out to the community, whether private citizens or local businesses, is beneficial for the sustainability of a drone program. There is a need to help the public understand what the program will offer and what it will be used for, which can even lead to funding opportunities.

Initially skeptical, the public may wonder:

  • Will they be armed?
  • Do you want to spy on me?
  • Are you going to violate my rights?

When the City of Linn launched our drone program, we found a few articles detailing success stories. Other departments explained how they used drones to find missing people or a fugitive on the run. We made sure to explain what the purpose of the drone program was and how this equipment would be used with integrity. This transparency publicized the program and showed citizens and local businesses that there was a real and tangible benefit in having such technology at hand, even in a small town and somewhat rural area.


When the Town of Linn launched our program, we wrote requests for donations to the local community and received assistance with purchasing new equipment. These entities ranged from the VFW (Foreign War Veterans) chapter to the Lions Club, local restaurants, Walmart and even individual residents who made personal donations.

Additional funding

As time passed and the department was successful with the program, we continued to receive additional funds for equipment and training.

We used to go to schools to talk to students about the use of technology in law enforcement. We took aerial photos of the schools and gave them to the students as a sign of goodwill. Word continued to spread, as did donations, as well as direct funding from our local city council.

Another drone program funding opportunity is offered by corporate department stores such as Target, Walgreens, Walmart, Costco, and others. Many of these companies have a foundation to give back to local communities.

Where you work can make a difference

Some states allow drug forfeiture money to be passed into a program that will be used to help with drug prevention programs and equipment.

Since drones are widely used to aid intelligence and pinpoint drug interdiction efforts, seek local authorities and your city court for approval to create or expand your program and use these. funds for equipment.


A number of grant opportunities are available for first responders, some of which are ongoing programs. Although in most cases you can be limited to what cell you can buy. Some restrictions include government subsidy stipulations that only allow drones made in the United States. If you intend to apply for these types of grants, be sure to check the blue list for confirmation of authorized equipment. Here is a selection of resources to help you find an opportunity that best fits your needs:

  • Police Grant Help: This resource allows police departments to research federal, state, foundation, and corporate grants available to your community, as well as track and submit grant applications.
  • The Office of Community Policing (COPS): The office of the COPS has invested more than $ 14 billion in community policing since Congress established the office in 1994.
  • First Responder Grants: A resource to help public safety agencies or first responder organizations locate, develop, apply, and obtain additional grants from federal, state, local, private, and corporate funding resources involved in defense of the territory.

FAA Funding Opportunities:

  • Aviation Workforce Development Grants: Grants to academic institutions and the aviation community to help prepare a more inclusive talent pool of pilots and aviation maintenance technicians.
  • Aviation Research Grants: Grants and cooperative agreements ranging from several thousand to several million dollars to support aviation-related research in emerging aviation technologies.
  • FAA Centers of Excellence: Funding six competitive “centers of excellence”, which are academic institutions and their affiliates.
  • SE2020 / 2025: an IDIQ-based contract focused on research, analysis, systems engineering and integration for the Next Generation Air Transport System (NextGen) and non-NextGen initiatives.

Download this Police1 UAV / Unmanned Aircraft System Buying Guide

Download this Police1 UAV / Unmanned Aircraft System Buying Guide

This Police Guide1 provides information on what law enforcement agencies should consider when determining how to integrate this technology into their equipment cache.


Reach out and let your community know what you are doing and what they can expect. The more open dialogue you have and show you are doing it for the right reasons, the more help you will receive with program acceptance and potential private donations. Believe me, you will still have to face the skeptics, but even they will be appeased once you demonstrate the value of the program to the community.

About the Author

James Bushey is the Police Chief of the Linn, Wisconsin City Police Department and Director of Technical Specialists at Adorama Business Solutions.

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