Texas Police DJI Drones – DRONELIFE

Texas police agencies hope to keep their Chinese-made drone fleets

By DRONELIFE Features Editor, Jim Magill

As both state and federal officials try to limit, if not outright ban, the use of Chinese-made drones by public service agencies, police departments and sheriff’s offices in Texas have taken steps to ensure that those UAVs in their fleets do not present the security threat that ban advocates fear.

In the last several years, many, if not most municipal police departments and county sheriff’s offices in the Lone Star State have established UAV programs. Among those police agencies with unmanned aerial system (UAS) programs, aerial vehicles produced by Da-Jiang Innovations (DJI) typically comprise the bulk of their fleets.

However, in recent months, federal officials have taken steps to discourage the use of drones produced by DJI and other Chinese drone companies, claiming these products represent a potential national security threat.

A recent informal survey of Texas police departments and sheriff’s offices found that few agencies wanted to discuss the issue publicly. Those that did respond were quick to point out that they have initiated measures to ensure that the data collected by their drones is not sent to China or anywhere else it didn’t belong.

In a statement, the police department in the Houston suburb of Pearland said it has implemented many of the mitigation strategies advocated by the federal Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and other security experts.

“The PD has made IT aware of the warning and they are working to put as many (mitigation measures) in place as possible in conjunction with vendors,” the statement reads.

Several respondents to the survey also noted that it would be cost-prohibitive should they be forced to shelve their DJI drones for non-Chinese UAVs, which in many cases are less capable and more costly than their DJI counterparts.

For example, the Austin PD estimated the cost of replacing its drone fleet, comprised entirely of DJI products, at about $120,000.


In December, Congress passed the massive National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2024, which contains provisions banning the use of Chinese-made drones by all agencies of the federal government. Several states are expected to consider passing similar bans and some have already done so.

In January, CISA, in conjunction with the FBI, issued a guidance document, describing the potential dangers that Chinese-made drones could pose: sending data related to critical U.S. infrastructure to the Chinese government. While the document does not call for an outright ban on the use of Chinese-made drones, it encourages organizations using drones that collect sensitive or national security information to “consult the Department of Defense’s Blue UAS Cleared List to identify drones that are compliant with federal cybersecurity policies, when purchasing UAVs.”

An even more direct threat to the operation of DJI and other Chinese-made drones is the Countering CCP Drones Act, introduced in Congress by New York Republican lawmaker Elise Stefanik. The bill, which recently received a legislative hearing, would add DJI to the FCC’s Covered List. Were it to become law, the legislation would effectively prevent the company’s products from accessing any communications infrastructure overseen by the FCC, which would in effect turn all DJI drones in the U.S. into expensive paperweights.

Prohibitions on the use of Chinese-manufactured drones have also passed on the state level. In 2021, Florida became the first state to initiate such a ban with the passage of Senate Bill 44, which “limits drone purchase, acquisition, or use by governmental agencies to drones manufactured by an approved manufacturer,” meaning not DJI or other Chinese-made drones.

That law and subsequent legislation passed to support it, proved to be wildly unpopular among Florida police and other first-responder agencies. A survey of public service agencies conducted last year by the Airborne International Response Team (AIRT) found that 95% of respondents (58 out of 60) said they thought that the recent changes to Florida’s drone laws would “have a negative impact on their organization’s drone program over the foreseeable future.”

Over the past several years, Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee have enacted bans similar to Florida’s. In Texas, legislation to ban the use of Chinese drones was introduced in the 2023 session of the state Legislature but failed to pass. Had it become law, Senate Bill 541 would have barred any government agency in the state – including local police and fire departments — from the use of certain technologies, including those of DJI.

Police agencies in Texas nervous

In light of all the anti-DJI activity on both the federal and state levels, police agencies in the Lone Star state are understandably nervous, as the bulk of their drone fleets are comprised of DJI products. They don’t want a repeat of what happened in Florida and are quick to point out that they have put in place measures to offset the data security concerns frequently associated with Chinese-made UAVs.

In a statement, the Austin PD highlighted the measures it has taken to ensure that data collected by its drones is not transmitted anywhere it shouldn’t be.

“While sending data to China is certainly a concern, we’re able to circumvent this by utilizing a local third-party software company to operate our drones as opposed to DJI software. This third-party company meets Department of Defense standards,” the department said in a statement.

The Dallas Police Department said its drone program operates “drones and related products manufactured in America and internationally, including China.” The department also said its drone program “has mirrored industry standards” for data security since its inception.

“The UAS program runs on a secure network and specialized software is used to capture data, ensure data securityand is SOC 2 Type 2 security compliant,” the department said.

In Harris County, the populous county that largely surrounds Houston, the Sheriff’s office, which flies only DJI drones, primarily operates its UAV fleet using the securely encrypted app produced by Austin-based DroneSense.

In a statement, the Houston PD said that before its UAS program is implemented by any division within the department, “proper evaluation is done to ensure compliance with industry best practices, legal requirements, standard operating procedures, proper training and certification.”

A recent study by the Texas Department of Public Safety found that the financial implications of swapping out Chinese-made drones with those from the U.S. or other “friendly” countries would be unrealistic for most police agencies across the state.

Pearland PD noted that it uses its drone fleet, comprised primarily of DJI dronesfor crime/crash reconstruction, during rescues, and a newly formed DFR [Drones as first responder] program.”

It would be cost-prohibitive for the department to replace its Chinese-manufactured drones with those on the Blue UAS Cleared List should they be required to do so, the department said. “Not all of the drones or drone components we use have a comparable US made drone/component. In applications where we’ve looked at comparable U.S.-made drones the costs have been three to four times that of the Chinese-made drones,” the PDP said.

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Jim Magill is a Houston-based writer with almost a quarter-century of experience covering technical and economic developments in the oil and gas industry. After retiring in December 2019 as a senior editor with S&P Global Platts, Jim began writing about emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, robots and drones, and the ways in which they’re contributing to our society. In addition to DroneLife, Jim is a contributor to Forbes.com and his work has appeared in the Houston Chronicle, U.S. News & World Report, and Unmanned Systems, a publication of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.


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