According to a report from DoJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz, the FBI spent $3 million so far, while the ATF and seven local police departments spent $600,000 and $1.26 million respectively. From 2004 to May 2013 the Justice Department spent almost $5 million on unmanned aircraft, reports CBS News.
Of course, it did not take long for the report to become overhyped thanks to all sorts of loons and conspiracy cranks who believe the United States is turning into a cyber version of East Germany. This is of course laughable, as $5 million spent on drones over the course of nine years is nothing.
A single MQ-1 Predator drone costs $4 million and law enforcement wouldn’t have much use for it. Law enforcement agencies are going after much smaller, cheaper drones that don’t require conventional runways. Also, law enforcement drones can't be armed, which isn't the case with some of their bigger, military counterparts. The whole idea behind such drones is to cut costs, as they can replace police helicopters in some situations at a fraction of the cost. They are also much less capable than helicopters, as they don’t sport the same optics or thermal imaging systems.
However, civil liberties groups and some politicians are using the overblown issue to promote their own agenda.
Bleeding heart liberal civil liberties groups argue that drones could invade people’s privacy, collide with passenger aircraft or crash, although the same applies to basically every type of manned aircraft used by law enforcement – the only difference is that drones are much lighter and don’t have a pilot on board.
Some prominent right-wing leaders hate them as well, for different reasons, freedom and whatnot. Libertarian Senator Rand Paul has been opposed to the domestic use of drones for years. He recently asked the FBI to explain itself, which it did in a brief letter – saying that it employed drones on just ten occasions since 2006 for surveillance in kidnappings, search and rescue missions and drug investigations.