An investigative report by Motherboard revealed that the San Jose Police Department owns a drone of which it earlier claimed to have no records.
In January, the SFPD acquired a $7,000 Century hexacopter and video rig for its bomb squad via a federal Homeland Security grant – a move that has civil liberties advocates crying foul.
The department told several tech news sites that it has not yet flown the unit nor trained personnel — indeed it has not yet obtained FAA authorization to do so.
In its grant application, the SJPD states: “This UAV would be only one of its kind for use by the different squads and could be used to investigate suspicious packages and respond to a [chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive] event throughout the Bay Area.”
Law enforcement expert Sid Heal told ARS Technica that drone use by police agencies will probably be the norm within the next few years, despite legislation designed to limit deployment.
“I’ve talked with several people who have personally used them in support of police operations, but there are still no official programs that I’m aware of that do not require lengthy, cumbersome, and unnecessary protocols with the FAA. If San Jose has a real program, and not just one that is exploratory in nature with a ‘jump through the hoops and see what’s up’ pilot, it will be the first that I’m aware of.”
The clash between private citizens and police over drone use has heated up as UAVs become cheaper and more advanced. In June, the Seattle Police Department gave the Los Angeles Police Department two drones, leading officials to immediately assure Angelinos that the two Draganflyer X6 aircraft will only be deployed for “narrow and prescribed uses” and not for general surveillance of the public.
Seattle’s drone gift comes after the city decided that police-led UAV deployment would be less beneficial than old-fashioned community building, leading the SPD to ground the program last year.
Jason is a longstanding contributor to DroneLife with an avid interest in all things tech. He focuses on anti-drone technologies and the public safety sector; police, fire, and search and rescue.
Beginning his career as a journalist in 1996, Jason has since written and edited thousands of engaging news articles, blog posts, press releases and online content.
Subscribe to DroneLife here.