San Diego Sheriff's Department Has Eyes On Drones
It may help save lives and wildfires or SWAT standoff. Or they might compromise the privacy of protesters and innocent citizens. Those are two sides of the debate over the use of drones by law enforcement. San Diego County Sheriff's Department says it is in the process of deciding if it should use drones for specific tasks like surveying wildfires. At present no San Diego law enforcement agency is using drones. Journey is Lt. Jason Vickery with the San Diego County Sheriff's Department. Welcome to the program Thank you for having me Matt Cagel is here -- policy attorney for civil liberties at the ACLU of Northern California. Now Lieutenant. Gregory -- tell us what drones -- of course they are sometimes called unmanned aerial vehicles. What might they be able to do to help law enforcement operations? Currently some of the agencies out there are using them right now. We will be looking to use them for some of the missions including search and rescue activities, be able to help our -- bomb squad, disaster response, some high risk tactical operations that SWAT teams are involved in. Hazardous materials spills. As well is helping out with wildfire assessment. How do you see these unmanned aerial vehicles helping out in a SWAT situation? In many instances are SWAT team's response to -- USA a barricaded armed subset that could be holed up in a shack or a property. Let's say a large property -- several acres large. To get to that person, there is inherent danger for the deputies making the approach to that location. Not knowing where the person is, what their location is on the property. A lot of times if that person will have a helicopter in some of the situations -- sometimes it might be even too dangerous for the helicopter. Let's say the person start shooting at the person and the helicopter. We could approach that person and the property with the UAV in a safe manner and be able to monitor from a command post and get that information back to our tactical teams. So when they do have to make the approach they have the information possibly where that person is and things we would not be able to do with the naked eye or from the helicopter. And other operations like wildfires or as you were saying hazardous material spills -- do you see drones replacing Sheriff's helicopters or working with them? Definitely not replacing. The technology is not close to being able to do with our helicopters would do as quickly. Definitely it would be supplement that. There might be some adverse weather conditions that our you a these might be able to fly an. If the helicopter gets grounded due to disability. We will be able to get out there and help them out or long-term operations where fuel might be a problem. We can put those in place of waiting for the helicopters to come back. Those types of things. It will be a situation where supplement the aerial units we have. Lieutenant. Gregory -- as you explore this, have you been speaking -- thinking of activities where drones would definitely not be deployed? I know a lot of concern about fourth amendment stuff in violation of rights. Surveilling people and things like that. That is not something that we anticipate using it for. The abuse of these is out there. It could be out there. That could be set for a lot of things that police have in their arsenal. As long as we have checks and balances in place, we use them as they are intended to be used I think it can do a lot of good. Currently Ventura County Sheriff's Department is the only law enforcement agency in the state to have authority to fly drones. Earlier today we spoke with Chris Dunn -- commander who says they mostly use drones in cases involving late -- life-saving efforts. We deployed it in areas that were extremely hazardous for search and rescue crews to operate in. Large boulders, click areas and things of that nature. So we can conduct a search. It has also helped us limit the amount of hours we are putting on our man aviation unit. And the cost associated with that. We used it in support of the fire agencies and a lot of land fire in the river bottom to monitor personnel during my operations. We have used it for a lot of training -- to date we have not had a lot of critical deployments. But we have used it for one marijuana eradication in the national force. Before tactical teams win and we sent the you a the overhead to ensure that -- you a the overhead to ensure that there were no suspects in the area before they made entry. We monitor their entry just to ensure we do not miss anyone. Again that is Chris Dunn with the Ventura County Sheriff Department. I want to go to Matt Cagel. What are the main concerns the ACLU has about the use of drones ? Drones are capable of invasive surveillance is not use with strict limits. They can go places helicopters cannot go and for much cheaper. They can be equipped with-powered surveillance equipment like his sensory equipment or facial recognition equipment. All other -- they should not be used without a robust public debate and oversight so that there are safeguards in place and these tools cannot be used for more than those legitimate purposes that the public the sites are legitimate. When should drones collect video? I am wondering when does the ACLU say that data should be collected who should get to see it? Like the decision to purchase a drone, the decision about when it it might be legitimate to collect video or other content is the public to make. This is a decision for the public and elected leaders and not for the sheriffs or law enforcement to make unilaterally. We would like to see public debate about the proper uses that are acceptable and those that are off-limits. It is up to the public and elected leaders to memorialize in a usage policy. If they decide they want to drones. It is up to them to memorialize what the strict limitations should be and when that video can be flipped. Here is what Ventura County have to say about handling video footage. The only video or photographic images we maintain our evidence-based. Those images that are evidenced in a case. Or for training purposes. So when we do training flights and missions with the fire department, or the bomb squad or hazmat, we maintain those for training purposes only. Otherwise in a video we obtained is deleted. That is how they handle it in Ventura County. What guidelines is the sheriffs department here considering about the use of drone data? Very similar to Ventura County. I don't foresee anything or any reason to keep any data we collect that is not used for evidence. Or training purpose to be retained. Any other video evidence be collected in any other way. To Matt Cagel point -- does the public have input? In this decision that the sheriffs department is making? As of right now we have citizen advisory groups. Most of our contract cities where the sheriff is law enforcement. Via been taking input from those groups since we have been looking into this. Getting feedback from the different advisory groups. I have been collecting that in looking at the different concerns and what those concerns could be. We are reaching out and we are definitely listening to input your getting. Are the concerns similar to what Matt was talking about? Not so much about that. However, again -- doing this and the research, we definitely are very aware of what the concerns are. We did reach out to the ACLU and we have listened to what their concerns are. We are taking input for sure. Matt is that input from advisory boards the kind of input you were talking about? We think is important that the entire community has an opportunity to get input. And elected leaders. Is the sheriffs depart -- the responsibility to let the public be aware. Is not the complete picture. Communities deserve transparency about proposals relating to surveillance technology. It is them who should have the final say as to whether this goes forward. And to what safeguards might be a place. Are there any plans for public hearings or anything about the subject quest Mac At this point, not right now. That would be up to the sheriff. Once he makes his decision on whether we are going to go forward or not or who else he wants to reach out to, I am sure he and his advisers will let me know and we will go for it that way. What kind of drones is the department considering? How much would the cost? We have looked at the Alameda County who has some drones and ensure it as well as Mesa. It runs the range from anywhere $2500-$85,000. Depending on the technology you want to use. If you -- it is evolving so quickly that every couple of months just when you find a platform that you might think would be a good one to use, among later there is another one with better technology -- that is more advanced and cheaper. Right now, we really have not pinpointed down to cost or the specific type we want to use. I think it is safe to say the ones we're looking at what not look too much different than the ones you see that hobbyists are using on a daily basis. The quad copter types with go pros attached. Even something relatively inexpensive like that could be real beneficial to the life-saving stuff I've been talking about we would be using. How ultimately will this decision be made and when do you think it would be made 1st ? We have to present to another community -- committee and the sheriffs department. I can't put a time table on it. We're hoping within the next couple of months. I can't say for sure. I've been speaking with Lt. Jason Vickery with the San Diego County Sheriff's Department and Matt Cagel with the ACLU of Northern California
The San Diego County Sheriff's Department may become the first law enforcement agency in the county to use drones.
Sheriff’s Lt. Jason Vickery said on KPBS Midday Edition on Monday that the department wants to use the devices to help with wildfires, bomb disposal and SWAT standoffs.
The drones could be particularly useful if a person is holed up in a shack in the middle of a large piece of property, he said.
“To get to that person, there’s an inherent danger for the deputies making the approach to that location,” Vickery said.
Law enforcement typically uses a helicopter to assess situations like that, but it might not be practical in all instances. Vickery said a drone, or an unmanned aerial vehicle, can find out about an area or suspect without putting law enforcement officers at risk.
“We can approach that person and property with the UAV in a relatively safe manner and be able to monitor it from a command post,” Vickery said.
While law enforcement sees benefits in using drones, others worry they may compromise citizens' privacy.
“Drones are capable of invasive surveillance if not used with strict limits,” said Matt Cagle, the policy attorney for technology and civil liberties at the ACLU of Northern California. “They can go places helicopters can’t go and for much cheaper.”
Cagle said the drones can be easily equipped with high power sensory equipment that can detect heat or even identify specific faces.
So far, the Ventura County Sheriff's Department is the only law enforcement agency in California the Federal Aviation Administration has approved to deploy drones.
“Drones should not be acquired and used without a robust public debate,” Cagle said.