Calif. police using drones to patrol during COVID-19 lockdown

The Chula Vista Police Department uses drones outfitted with speakers to enforce social distancing and monitor the city's homeless population


Syracuse Media Group

CHULA VISTA, Calif. — Some police departments in California plan on using drones to enforce a coronavirus lockdown and to, in part, monitor the homeless population, according to a report on Friday.

The Chula Vista Police Department, located just south of San Diego near the California-Mexico border, recently purchased two $11,000 drones — doubling its fleet — that will be outfitted with speakers and night vision cameras.

The Chula Vista Police Department is using drones to enforce the statewide coronavirus lockdown. (Photo/CVPD)
The Chula Vista Police Department is using drones to enforce the statewide coronavirus lockdown. (Photo/CVPD)

“We have not traditionally mounted speakers to our drones, but…if we need to cover a large area to get an announcement out, or if there were a crowd somewhere that we needed to disperse — we could do it without getting police officers involved,” said Capt. Vern Sallee, according to the Financial Times.

“The outbreak has changed my view of expanding the program as rapidly as I can,” he added.

One of the reasons for the drones will be to monitor the homeless population in the city, who Sallee believes have a lack of reliable information on the severity of the coronavirus outbreak.

“We need to tell them we actually have resources for them — they are vulnerable right now,” Sallee said, according to the paper. “It might be impractical or unsafe for our officers to be put into those areas.”

The drones were made by the Chinese company DJI — the largest civilian drone company — that accounts for roughly 70 percent of the market. Officials had previously warned about Chinese drones being a possible threat to security, the Financial Times reported.

The department currently flies about 10-15 operations a day, but solely for emergency situations. They started using them for emergency situations back in Oct. 2018.

“With strong support from the community, the Chula Vista Police Department began deploying drones from the rooftop of the Police Department Headquarters to 911 calls and other reports of emergency incidents such as crimes in progress, fires, traffic accidents and reports of dangerous subjects,” the department said.

Sallee is working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to expand drone usage in order to protect those in the community during the outbreak.

“This crisis could be a catalyst to spur the FAA to free up resources faster,” he said, according to the paper.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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