Santa Clara police officers have received clearance to launch Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), more commonly referred to as drones. SCPD officials say drones have proven to be a valuable resource for law enforcement agencies across the country. UAS routinely serve as an aviation asset that provides a different perspective on a dangerous situation and supports investigations.
The Santa Clara Police Department (SCPD) spent a lot of time studying and researching the issue before launching the program. The department studied the use of drone technology, secured funding and developed best practices, policies and procedures for our Department which were reviewed by the Chief’s Advisory Committee and approved by the City Council in 2020.
Unfortunately, the pandemic and corresponding staffing and supply chain issues delayed the launch of the UAS program.
Recently, SCPD selected eight police officers to be trained and licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). SCPD also received certification from the FAA.
Meanwhile, SCPD has purchased nine drones, four indoor and five outdoor, with different capabilities to support the various missions of the Santa Clara Police Department, depending on the conditions and situation. The drones are outfitted with cameras capable of taking still images and recording video. Footage captured shall be retained according to the City’s established records retention schedule. In each instance, the UAS is intended to aid in the resolution of the situation at hand while also providing a valuable tool to keep officers safely out of harm’s way.
In the coming months, SCPD will be blending the use of UAS with its existing operations and technology. Meanwhile, historical information about the development of program is available online.
Sunnyvale DPS launched its drone program in 2019. The agency uses the drones for search and rescue, fire and post-fire investigations, hazmat response, hostage situations, tactical operations, disaster response, crime scene documentation and flight training for drone operators.
When the program was launched, DPS promised to not use the drones for surveillance without a court order or search warrant. There was also a promise not to target individuals based on things such as race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, disability, gender or sexual orientation. The department says the device will never be used to conduct personal business or be weaponized.
While there certainly are legitimate use cases for remote surveillance tools, the eleven potential use cases listed by the City of Santa Clara would be extremely rare if they happen at all. Not only does this UAS/DART program cost taxpayers money to acquire, employ, and sustain, but there is also additional waste incurred by having officers assigned to collateral roles instead of focusing on core policing activities.
Next door in the City of San Jose, they have just launched a public portal to comply with SB-1421 which allows for public review sustained findings of an (i) Officer-Involved Shooting, (ii) Officer Caused Great-Bodily Injury, (iii) Officer Sexual Assault, and (iv) Officer Dishonesty. This follows a similar portal set up by the City of San Francisco additionally complying with SB-16 bringing transparency to all cases involving (v) Unlawful Arrest or Record Searches and (vi) Biased Policing. Down south, in the City of San Diego, they also follow suit publishing not only SB-1421 and SB-16 cases but they’ve also proactively embraced AB-748 directing all video/audio be made available within 45 days of any incident where discharge of a firearm or use of force by a peace officer or custodial officer against a person which results in death or great bodily injury. Access to materials compliant with all three California laws are made available by those agencies via publicly accessible Internet portal.
• City of San Jose: https://www.sanjoseca.gov/your-government/appointees/independent-police-auditor/sb1421-records-portal?fbclid=IwAR0tX4noMdi2qmlk5P49N9ffV-VROlrAClx1Kk358Kjjs5NqhEZO28KiBRo
• City and County of San Francisco: https://sf.gov/information/reports-policing-complaints
• Sonoma County: https://www.sonomasheriff.org/sb1421
• City of San Diego: https://www.sandiego.gov/police/data-transparency/mandated-disclosures/sb16-sb1421-ab748
This drone program again another great example where the City of Santa Clara doesn’t have its priorities in place or the need of the community at heart. For more than a decade the City and its police department have had the most officer involved shootings in the Bay Area (per police entity size) of unarmed and/or mentally ill persons, they’ve been part of a Civil Grand Jury report documenting non-compliance with California law PC 832.5(a)(1), an additional Civil Grand Jury report found SCPD has the lowest hours of Critical Incident Training among officers, and, of course, the City of Santa Clara has specifically been found to have one of the worst compliance levels when it comes to the California Public Records Act.
• City of Santa Clara: Public Records Access, “The Paper Chase” https://www.scscourt.org/court_divisions/civil/cgj/2019/CGJ%20City%20of%20Santa%20Clara%20Final%20Report%20-%2006.18.19.pdf
• Law Enforcement Public Complaint Procedures (pg 4) https://www.scscourt.org/court_divisions/civil/cgj/2013/LawEnforcementPublicComplaintProcedures.pdf
• Police and the Mentally Ill: Improving Outcomes (Table A, pg. 10) https://www.scscourt.org/court_divisions/civil/cgj/2018/Police_and_Mentally_Ill_Improving_Outcomes050818.pdf
In a previous article by this publication, SCPD is apparently asking for more than $600k to pad their already grossly overgenerous compensation. I hope the City Council denies that request and brings both the city and its police department up to standards of transparency and accountability that other cities and residents benefit from. It would be an easy start and quick political win for Chahal, Hardy, Park, Jain, and/or Becker and much better utilization of financial resources … if lost where to start, they just need to call or email the below listed entities for assistance.
• San Jose Independent Police Auditor (408) 535-3500, email@example.com
• San Francisco Department of Police Accountability (415) 241-7711, firstname.lastname@example.org
• San Diego Commission on Police Practices (619) 236-6296, email@example.com
• Sonoma County Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach (707) 565-1534, IOLERO@sonoma-county.org