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Public Safety

Chula Vista Police Drones Can Now Cover 100% Of City For Emergency Calls

A man wearing headphones controls a Chula Vista Police Department drone from a computer while sitting at a desk, Feb 5. 2020.
Mike Damron
A man wearing headphones controls a Chula Vista Police Department drone from a computer while sitting at a desk, Feb 5. 2020.

Since 2018, the Chula Vista Police Department has been able to deploy drones as first responders for select law enforcement situations. In August 2019, the program was expanded to cover 33% of the city’s area.

Now the Federal Aviation Administration is giving them permission to expand that coverage to all of Chula Vista. It's the first police agency in the country to be able to do so.

Chula Vista Police Drones Can Now Cover 100% Of City For Emergency Calls
Listen to this story by Jacob Aere.

Chula Vista Police Drones Can Now Cover 100 Of City For Emergency Calls

Chula Vista Police Chief Roxana Kennedy said the Drone as First Responder (DFR) program helps reduce response times, and keeps the community and officers safe.

“These drones provide real time information to our officers while they're in the field,” Kennedy said. “They arrive usually prior to officers' arrival. And they are able, through their cell phones or their mobile data computers, to feed them live information about what’s actually occurring.”

RELATED: Chula Vista Police Using Drones To Respond To 911 Calls

The police chief said one of the main advantages of the drones is helping to de-escalate otherwise unknown situations.

“Officers have the ability then to see, 'Is this an armed individual? Is this just someone pacing in the street? Do I really need to respond into the area or would it be better for me to stay back?'” Kennedy said. “So it gives them that real, critical information to make better decisions and be able to de-escalate situations so that everyone goes home safely.”

But UC San Diego professor Lilly Irani said the drones have increased surveillance of the Chula Vista population without proper community input on the program.

“Of course a camera flying in the sky takes a lot of information beyond the information that might be targeted or publicly acceptable,” she said. “The camera can look into private property, it might be able to see what's going on in people's backyards, it might be able to look into sites of religious worship that the community hasn't talked about.”

RELATED: Chula Vista PD Approved For Broader Use Of Drones In Law Enforcement

To date, the Chula Vista Police Department said its DFR program has responded to over 5,400 calls for service and the drone was the first on-scene to over 2,500 incidents.

All drone flights are logged, and flight data and maps are available on the police department website.