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San Bernardino PD To Start Using Drones

Posted on April 27 2016


San Bernardino Police Department is on track to be the first agency in the county to use drones for police work.

The department has applied to the Federal Aviation Administration and is set to buy an unmanned aerial vehicle, Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.

The cost will be $6,000 to $7,000 — far below the threshold that requires direct council approval — but Burguan said he wanted to be transparent about the process because of potential public uneasiness.

No one at the meeting objected to the department’s use of drones.

“The term drone oftentimes has a military connotation, weapons and things such as that, and that is not at all what we’re doing here,” said Burguan, who is acting city manager until Feb. 7. “This is essentially a camera program that will assist our officers on a number of things.”

Burguan said the vehicle would be used to take crime scene photos, in limited search-and-rescue operations, to check warehouse rooftops when silent alarms go off, and in high-risk vehicle stops.

 An example of a helpful use is after the Dec. 2 terror attack at the Inland Regional Center, when police were preparing to search the vehicle the suspected terrorists had been driving before police killed them in a shootout, he said.

Police were concerned the vehicle might be booby-trapped with explosives and wanted to check it before endangering officer lives, he said.

“The only mechanism we had to do it was to insert people very close in armored vehicles, and then ultimately they had to get out and look even closer,” he said. “We could very easily fly this thing right up to the window of those trucks and take a look inside the window. Much safer, much less expensive.”

Police would follow Fourth Amendment requirements regarding privacy, he said.

“We are not going to use this thing unreasonably; we are not going to be doing illegal searches or anything like that,” Burguan said. “In fact, anything that would be considered a search of what would normally be considered a private space — a backyard or something like that — we would get a search warrant unless an exigent circumstance exists.”

For now, the FAA requires agencies to get approval before each use, which can be done in a five-minute phone call, according to Burguan.

Council members said they support the program.

Councilman John Valdivia, noting that since 2013 he had advocated the city use drones, pointed to a February 2013 Huffington Post article listing dozens of agencies that had applied for FAA approval.

“So this is a widely used tool to assist our police and criminal justice professionals to do this job,” Valdivia said. “I applaud you for having the foresight, and certainly with the recent events of Dec. 2, I think it’s time to embrace this strategy for policing in our town.”

 No neighboring cities have received authorization to use drones, but Burguan said Fontana is also exploring a program.

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