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.
Considerations for implementing an agency Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) program:
Drones as First Responders (DFR):
Since October 22, 2018, with strong support from the community, The Chula Vista Police Department has been 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 Drones as a First Responder (DFR) System is transformational. It 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. The drones have responded to hundreds of calls for service giving Chula Vista Police Officers information that no other public safety agency has ever had before; aerial intelligence about what exactly they are responding to before they arrive. Imagine the value of knowing that the truck leaving the scene of a robbery report is red and heading northbound, or that the report of a man with a gun is actually a 16-year-old with a BB gun, or the accident on the freeway involves a tanker truck with placards indicating a chemical hazard. These are things traditional manned air support has not been able to provide, as they are more commonly called in by ground units once they have arrived. Widespread deployment of DFR Systems will transform the way public safety agencies serve their communities, increasing safety, efficiency, and accountability.
In May of 2019 Chula Vista Police Department obtained a Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) waiver from the FAA. This allows CVPD to fly the drone further from the launch point (up to 3 nautical miles) covering more of the city and protecting more officers and citizens.
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 ps.911security.com. 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, Evidence.com, 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 UASTeam@ChulaVistaPD.org. 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: https://www.faa.gov/uas/faqs/
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