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UAS Drone Program

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The mission of the Chula Vista Police Department’s UAS Program is it to provide airborne support to police operations in a safe, responsible, and transparent manner to preserve the peace, reduce response times and increase the quality of life in Chula Vista. 


Small remotely operated Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), also commonly referred to as drones, are an efficient and effective way of providing law enforcement critical information to respond to Calls For Service, emergency situations or to conduct criminal investigations.  Some examples include; providing an overhead view of an area or incident for ground personnel, safely clearing the interior of buildings, providing detailed documentation of crime and accident scenes, and searching for lost or missing persons.


In December 2015 the Chula Vista Police Department formed the Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Committee to study the use of the technology in its public safety operations.  UAS Committee members met dozens of times to study best practices, policies, and procedures regarding the use of UAS technology in law enforcement.  A special focus of the team’s research was an effort to address concerns about public trust, civil liberties, and the public’s right to privacy during the operation of CVPD UAS systems.

Prior to implementing its UAS Program, CVPD discussed its plan for UAS operations in the media, in public forums, and in posted information about the project on the CVPD website.  This outreach included a mechanism for the public to contact or email the UAS Team to comment on CVPD’s UAS policy, or to express concerns or provide feedback.  It is important to note that, out of respect for civil liberties and personal privacy, CVPD’s UAS Policy specifically prohibits the use of UAS Systems for general surveillance or general patrol operations. After exhaustive planning and research, CVPD activated its UAS Program in the summer of 2017 to support tactical operations by CVPD first responders.  

Drones as First Responders (DFR):

Beginning on October 22, 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. This unique concept of operations (CONOPS) for drones developed out of a partnership between CVPD and Cape. CVPD and Cape are part of the San Diego IPP Team, selected as one of only 10 teams among hundreds of applicants as part of the FAA’s Integration Pilot Project (IPP). The IPP is a federal initiative designed to help integrate drones into the National Air Space (NAS). CVPD’s CONOPS is called Drone as a First Responder (DFR) and it is a transformational method of policing that has demonstrated the ability to increase officer and community safety and reduce overall police response times. DFR provides the ability to see what is going on at an incident before emergency personnel arrive on scene. In addition to the overhead perspective that traditional air support has always provided, DFR allows a trained incident commander to “virtually” arrive on scene first, sometimes minutes before officers are in harm’s way. The drone has a powerful on-board camera that streams HD video back to the department’s real-time crime center where the Teleoperator, who is a trained critical incident manager, not only controls the drone remotely, but communicates with the units in the field giving them information and tactical intelligence about what they are responding to. The system also streams the video feed to the cell phones of the first responders, supervisors, and command staff so they too can see exactly what the drone is seeing. 

In addition, CVPD is the first and only police department in the nation to test and successfully use Live911 (  This revolutionary software developed in partnership with HigherGround allows the Teleoperator, and soon officers in the field, the ability to listen live to incoming 911 calls in real time.  The audio of a call between a citizen and a dispatcher contains critical information.  The Teleoperator is able to launch based upon what he or she hears during the ongoing 911 call, and is often able to have the drone arrive on scene before the officers on the ground even realize the incident is occurring. This Live911 system supports the already robust and efficient CVPD police dispatching system, providing only an added layer of efficiency to serve the community.

The DFR Program continues to expand its capabilities with the ultimate goal of providing the ability to respond to any location in the city within minutes.  In May of 2019, Chula Vista Police was authorized to fly Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS waiver). This allowed the drones to fly up to 3 miles in any direction from the launch site (within city limits). Moving from a 1 mile flight radius to 3 miles increased the area of service exponentially.

In August of 2019, Chula Vista partnered with Paradise Valley Hospital and Rush Properties to add an additional launch site. The site is about 2 miles south of the police department and provides the ability to cover the entire west portion of the City. This area is roughly 30% of the geographic area of the City but, due to its density and commercial activity, is responsible for about 70% of the priority calls for service.  CVPD has plans to expand DFR to the east in the near future and ideally cover the vast majority of the geographic area of Chula Vista. 

Also in August of 2019, through the tremendous generosity of the Chula Vista Police Foundation, CVPD was able to purchase two new DJI Matrice 210 V2 Drones. These new drones were a significant improvement to the operation and provided increase range and capability.

In the first year of DFR the drones responded to over 1,000 separate incidents and the program continues to serve the residents of Chula Vista by reducing response times and increasing safety. 

Chief Roxana Kennedy has called DFR one her most important tools in improving situational awareness, de-escalating dangerous situations, and protecting her officers and community. DFR, along with Live911, are just two of several components in the Chief’s Public Safety Innovation (PSI) Initiative.  The PSI Initiative is an example of the commitment of CVPD in supporting the City’s role as a leader in the international Smart Cities movement.

To learn more about DFR and how to implement a UAS Program in your agency:

IACP UAS Presentation

COPS Office's monthly podcast series, The Beat

Chula Vista's Drones as First Responders program - webinar hosted by POLICE Magazine

Deploying a drone as first responder

Drone-Related Activity Dashboard

Drone Flight History Maps

To achieve public transparency, CVPD partnered with 911 Security to use their drone detection software to track all drone flights launched by the Chula Vista police department. With the help of 911 Security, CVPD is making their drone flight data publicly available on 911 Security is a specialized airspace security company that provides drone detection technology to law enforcement, fire departments, and other government agencies.  


 What is a drone or UAS?

UAS is an Unmanned Aerial System and is commonly called a drone. A drone is an aerial device with an onboard computer that is operated remotely, generally by a pilot on the ground using a handheld controller. Small drones are battery operated, weigh less than 55 pounds, have several rotors like a helicopter, and are equipped with a video camera.

Where is the video and photos taken by the UAS stored?

All video and photo evidence taken during any UAS mission is stored in the same manner and location as Body Worn Camera (BWC) video and other investigative evidence. The Police Department utilizes a private “cloud” service,, to store all digital evidence. The service is authorized and certified under both state and federal regulations for the security and protection of confidential information, and is available only for official law enforcement purposes. Evidence is stored and saved for a limited time (one year or less) unless it is categorized as evidence in an actual crime or formal investigation. Then it is stored for a period of time consistent with all other evidence related to that incident/investigation.

Who has access to the video and photos?

Video and photos collected by UAS are stored for the purposes of conducting police investigation and subsequent prosecutions. Accordingly, videos and photos are generally accessible to police investigators for official use only. Like all police records, video and photos may also be subject to additional release under the same rules and restrictions as BWC Video and other items of evidence. Generally, UAS photos and video are considered part of the investigative record and are not available to the public under the California Public Records Act (CPRA) or Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). For more details, please refer to the Chula Vista Police Department Policy on Portable Audio/Video Recorders.

How is my privacy protected?

The intent of the DFR program is to enhance the Police Department’s response to emergency calls for service. As such, drones are used during an active response to an emergency or other call for police assistance. CVPD policy prohibits drone operators from intentionally recording or transmitting images of any location where a person would have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as private backyards or inside private buildings, except where authorized by a warrant issued by a judge or in emergency situations.

What training do UAS pilots undergo?

In addition to the training and study required to maintain a FAA Part 107 Remote Pilot License, all CVPD UAS Team members train regularly in a variety of locations and settings to ensure operational efficiency. All training is documented, and the records are maintained by CVPD and are subject to review by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

What rules and regulations must CVPD’s UAS pilots follow?

All CVPD UAS pilots are subject to FAA regulations related to airspace use, and all must have a valid “Part 107” Remote Pilot License. UAS Pilots are also subject to the Chula Vista Police Department Policy on UAS Operations, which is available on the CVPD website.

Why does CVPD use UAS rather than helicopters?

Helicopters and other manned aircraft (air support) are very expensive to operate. Currently, CVPD relies on the San Diego Police Department and the San Diego Sheriff’s Department for air support. UAS can be used in a variety of ways that supplement mutual aid air support requests in a cost-effective and efficient manner, like the Drone as First Responder (DFR) aerial intelligence-led emergency response.

What is Drone as First Responder (DFR) operations?

Drone as First Responder (DFR) operations is an innovative and transformative use of UAS developed and implemented by the Chula Vista Police Department and CAPE, a private UAS teleoperation company. DFR is the public safety Concept of Operations use-case of the San Diego City IPP Team.  The concept is to utilize a UAS to fly to any reported incident and arrive prior to first responders on the ground.   The video feed from the UAS is viewed at the police department by a trained first responder (teleoperator or TO). The TO is able to operate the UAS remotely and communicate with field personnel via radio immediately.  The TO is able to evaluate the scene and circumstances before those in the field arrive and provide necessary tactical information that help them stay safe and increase efficiency.  The video feed is also immediately available to every officer in the field via a smart phone application.  Officers and fire personnel can see for themselves what they are responding to.  The ability to evaluate the resources needed, prepare the proper tactical response, and increase the safety of the first responders and the public is the intent of the project and the mission of Chula Vista Police Department.

When do Chula Vista Police use UAS (drones)?

The Chula Vista Police Department uses UAS in a variety of circumstances such as documenting crime and accident scenes, searching for missing or wanted persons, fires, and evaluating damage after a major incident or natural disasters. These can happen anywhere in the City and the CVPD UAS Team will respond to those on an as-needed basis.  he Chula Vista Police UAS Team is also part of an FAA initiative (UAS Integration Pilot Project, or IPP), that encourages public agencies and private companies to partner in using UAS in innovative ways to serve the community and evaluate the integration of UAS into the National Air Space (NAS). Since October 22, 2018 CVPD in partnership with CAPE and other companies has been utilizing UAS to respond to emergency calls or reported incidents in the area around the police department building (roughly 1-mile radius). The UAS are launched from the roof of the police department and fly toward the scene of incident such as a crime in progress, serious accident, officer in need of assistance, or any other incident where having advanced knowledge of what is happening at the scene before police and fire first responders arrive may add to safety and efficiency. This program is called Drone as First Responder (DFR) Operations (see above).

Q: How do I ask a question or make a complaint about UAS use in Chula Vista?

Anyone may email the UAS Team directly at  Also anyone may make a service complaint to the Chula Vista Police Department in person, via phone (619) 691-5151, or fill out the complaint form here.

For more FAQ related to UAS, please see FAA’s link here:


Useful Links:

Drone Fleet Media Coverage Policies & Regulations 







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