Experts at New Mexico State University and Auburn University told USA Today the demand is being driven by veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan who have seen the crafts' effectiveness in war.
Police could use drones for such tasks as finding lost children, hunting marijuana crops and easing traffic jams in evacuations of cities.
Spokesman Les Dorr said the FAA is drafting new rules for smaller unmanned aircraft and is discussing with the Justice Department "trying to streamline the process of applying for certificates of authorization."
Domestic drones have largely been limited to sections of the borders with Canada and Mexico. No local police departments have been authorized to use them yet.
The FAA authorized the Physical Science Laboratory at New Mexico State University to research the issue.
"We're extremely interested in being able to pave the way to integrate unmanned aircraft into the civil air space," said Doug Davis of New Mexico State. He said unmanned aerial vehicles, called UAVs, range in size from 15 ounces to 34,000 pounds.