How to Spot a Police Drone at Night?

It’s almost midnight, and you’re strolling on a quiet road. Out of nowhere, you hear a faint humming noise overhead, and as you turn and look up, you also spot a couple of blinking lights in the sky.

What exactly is it? You might wonder. Is it a bird, a plane, or a drone? 

In most cases, it’s likely to be a “drone,” but how to tell if it’s a regular drone or one used by the police for surveillance? 

Continue reading as I explore the different ways to spot a police drone at night and its importance. So, let’s get started. 

How to Spot Police Drones at Night? 

I’ve shortlisted the following six ways for you to spot a police drone overnight easily: 

  • Notice the Light Configurations
  • Listen to the Buzzing or Humming Noise
  • Recognize Reflective Materials and Surfaces
  • Pay Attention to the Distinct Flight Patterns
  • Use Infrared Cameras
  • Use a Drone Detection App 

Let’s discuss each of these methods in detail. 

Step-by-Step Guide to Spot Police Drones at Night

In this section, I’ll explain all the six ways to spot police drones during nighttime. 

From listening to their propellers’ sound to using drone detection apps, choose any suitable method. 

Notice the Light Configurations

If there’s one foolproof technique to spot a police drone at night, it’s to notice its colorful blinking lights. That’s all! 

Apart from improving their nighttime visibility, these lights serve other goals, too. And this includes their quick identification. 

Take the example of anti-collision lights, which are visible for at least three statute miles. These are generally white, red, or green and may blink or strobe, per the FAA regulations. 

There are also navigation lights at the drone’s rear and front end to help the pilot determine the UAV’s direction and orientation in the night sky.  

By looking up at these drone lights, you can substantiate the presence of a drone around you. 

What Do Different Light Configurations on Police Drones Signify?

The light configuration on police drones is nearly identical to that on consumer drones. While the red lights indicate the front of the drone, green ones usually point to its rear.

White lights, on the other hand, are solely mounted for illumination purposes in low-light conditions. 

The only additional light on police drones is “blue,” which continuously blinks along with the red light. 

Listen to the Buzzing or Humming Noise

If you want a dual confirmation of a police drone hovering overhead, listen to its consistent, humming sound.

Every drone produces distinguishable sounds through its motors, propellers, and other moving components.  

Thus, hearing this low-pitched buzzing or humming noise that seems out of place indicates a drone. 

But here’s a catch! 

Spotting a drone through this sound identification can be challenging, especially if it’s flying far away or at a high altitude.

Thus, you must stay patient and listen carefully for any out-of-the-box sounds in your vicinity.

A sound amplifier can be considered to increase your chances.

Here’s a quick roundup of key characteristics of drone sounds to help you gauge the presence of a drone better: 

  • Steady and regular
  • Low-pitch
  • Not overly loud
  • Similar to the buzzing of a swarm of bees

But now you might be confused and asking how can individuals recognize the sounds of police drones?

If I talk about how individuals can recognize the sounds of police drones, again, the best way is to listen to them patiently. 

Alternatively, tools like smartphone apps or sound meters can also help you identify frequencies associated with drones. 

Recognize Reflective Materials and Surfaces

Most police drones have their frames and other components wrapped with distinct reflective materials, like metallic coating, decals (similar to that on racing cars), etc. 

All these markings come in handy for their identification in the darkest hours. 

In addition, LED lights, commonly used on drones for navigation and certain plastic or composite materials, can also be tracked using sensors sensitive to such reflective elements to spot these flying gadgets in the night sky.

Tip: Sensors from the infrared spectrum are the best options here. 

Integrating these features enhances the overall visibility and tracking capabilities of law enforcement drones during low-light conditions, aiding in their identification and surveillance. 

Pay Attention to the Flight Patterns

Unlike consumer drones, police drones often hover in a specific pattern or at a particular spot for 40 minutes to an hour due to their pre-programmed flight paths.

I still remember that night when I noticed a fleet of police drones flying over my property in a grid-like pattern.

Later on, I found that they were following a maximum security package that was being transported!  

Another unique thing about police drones is their ability to change direction abruptly, distinguishing them from other flying objects, such as aircraft. 

This could definitely evoke a question –

What Are Common Flight Patterns of Police Drones During Nighttime?

Some common flight patterns of drones during nighttime are: 

  • Grid patrolling
  • Perimeter guarding
  • Hotspot focus 
  • Target tracking 

Use Infrared Cameras

Another way to spot a drone used by law enforcement agencies is by detecting its heat signature, and this is where an infrared camera comes into the picture. 

It uses IR technology to detect the infrared radiation or heat drones emit from their motors, batteries, and internal hardware.

Based on these detections, the camera creates a “thermal profile,” or heat map of the area in focus, making it easier to spot a drone even if it’s pitch black out! 

Two popular infrared cameras you can try are FLIR Ex Pro-Series and DJI H20T

Tip: Combine IR technology with other detection methods, like blinking lights, drone sounds, or drone detection apps, to significantly increase your chances of spotting a police drone at night. 

But like every other method, even infrared cameras come with certain serious limitations—for example, limited detection range, performance issues in adverse weather conditions, etc. 

Use a Drone Detection App

Last but not least, let’s talk about drone detection apps. 

These apps might not 100% accurately identify a police drone at night due to various limitations like range, but still, it’s worth trying them. 

Take the example of AirMap. It’s been almost a year since I started using this advanced airspace management software system for drones, and the results have been phenomenal! 

It not only provides me with real-time airspace information but also traffic updates and no-fly zone alerts. 

Apart from AirMap, the AARTOS mobile app is another good option, especially if you’re a newbie.

What I like the most about this drone detection application is its compatibility with iOS and Android devices, intuitive mobile control, easy operation, and ability to fit all viewports. 

Why Is It Important to Spot Police Drones at Night?

There are many benefits of spotting a police drone at night, such as: 

  • Stay aware of your potential aerial surveillance 
  • Ensure that law enforcement activities are transparent, accountable, and within legal boundaries
  • Maintain civil liberties
  • Foster a safe and secure community 
  • Protect your privacy

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: What Is Night Vision Technology, and How Can It Help Spotting Drones?

A: In simple terms, it’s a technology that lets you see objects in low-light or no-light conditions. 

Night vision technology, or NVT, is based on two principles – Image Intensification and Thermal Imaging.

It enhances police drones’ low-light visibility, helping you accurately spot them through their heat signatures and movement patterns. 

Q: How Can Individuals Report Drone Sightings in Their Community?

A: Any individual, including you, can report drone sightings in their community to their local FAA Flight Standards District Office. The FAA’s investigators will study the report and follow up with the pilot. 

Alternatively, you can seek help from your regional law enforcement agency or police station. 

Q: How Can One Responsibly Report Police Drone Activity?

A: You can responsibly report any dubious police drone activity around you by contacting your local law enforcement agency or filing a complaint at the regional police station. 

But make sure to collect the necessary evidence to support your case, like photographs, videos, etc. 

Q: What Are Some General Tips for Ensuring Drone Safety and Security in the Community?

A: Follow these general tips to ensure drone safety and security in the community: 

  • Don’t fly your UAV without proper training and licensing. 
  • Open areas, like fields or parks, are the best places to fly a drone. 
  • Keep your drone within your line of sight.  

Lastly, you must respect everyone’s right to privacy by avoiding flying over private properties or capturing images without consent


Identifying a police drone at night requires keen observation, patience, and awareness of its distinct features.

This includes but isn’t limited to its distinguishable blinking lights, a consistent hovering pattern, and buzzing sounds.

I hope this article helped you understand how to spot a surveillance drone in the wee hours and why it’s essential in the first place. Don’t forget to share this post with your friends and family. Stay safe!

Diptesh Das

Diptesh Das is your friendly ‘content maniac’ and drone enthusiastic! Being passionate about content writing. He is a firm believer of the power of words and thereby ended up leveraging them to create an impact by sharing his drone knowledge and experiences.

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