As U.S. authorities grapple with how to regulate the use of unarmed drones in U.S. skies, a small network of police, first responders and experts is already flying unmanned aircraft.
These operators say rapidly evolving drone technology is already reshaping disaster response, crime scene reconstruction, crisis management and tactical operations. Critics of U.S. domestic drone use worry about privacy and safety.
Several dozen local police departments, federal agencies and universities have special FAA permits to fly drones in U.S. airspace.
"Like a lot of law enforcement agencies, our first thoughts were, 'Cool! Let's use it for tactical missions - for chasing bad guys across the county,'" said Ben Miller, a Mesa County, Colorado, sheriff's deputy.
"But the reality is you'll have a mission like that once or twice a year," he said. "The real utility of unmanned aerial systems is not the sexy stuff. It's the crime scene and accident reconstruction."