Chula Vista Police Department drones

Southern California police department gives more public transparency to drone program

The Chula Vista Police Department is bringing a fresh layer of public transparency to its drone program, now making it easier for any members of the general public to view and understand the exact location, flight path, and purpose behind each police drone deployment. 

Chula Vista is the second-largest city in the San Diego metropolitan area, and its police department has been using drones as far back as 2018. Today, the Chula Vista Police Department announced that it is working with another California-based drone company, Airdata UAV, to make the missions of its drone flights more transparent. And if successful, it could assuage fears among some politicians and members of the general public around drone use.

Chula Vista Police Department drones map airdata
A view of Chula Vista Police Department’s feed via AirData.

“Transparency and accountability are key components in the success of our drone program which has been an invaluable tool in maintaining the safety of our officers and the public,” said Chula Vista Police Department Chief Roxana Kennedy in a prepared statement. “We pride ourselves on ensuring the public has access to our drone flight information in upholding the trust of our community.”

Airdata UAV, which is based in El Dorado Hills, Calif. near Sacramento, was initially built to provide crash-prevention information, giving pilots much broader data than what they could capture in a logbook alone. Airdata UAV has grown to a more comprehensive drone fleet management operation platform with use cases including making sure drones are always ‘airworthy’ by analyzing, identifying, and predicting critical failures and optimizing flight performance. And the latest use case is making police more accountable.

A view of Chula Vista Police Department’s feed via AirData.

With the CVPD and AirData partnership, expect better data collection and automatic reporting. The public will be able to access an open AirData-driven web page to better understand what’s going on with any drone-related law enforcement activity.

The Chula Vista Police Department launched its drone program in 2015 simply as a small group to study the use of the technology in its public safety operations. In the summer of 2017, it actually launched its first drones to support tactical operations by CVPD first responders. By October 2018, CVPD 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. 

These days, the department says it believes drones can “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,” according to its mission statement, and use cases have grown since then.  In May 2019, CVPD was authorized to fly Beyond Visual Line of Sight.

Chula Vista Police Department drones
A view of Chula Vista Police Department’s feed via AirData.

At one point, the Chula Vista Police Department even suggested plans to use drones equipped with loudspeakers to help communicate information related to the coronavirus, as first reported by the Financial Times.

“CVPD staff on regular patrol have been asked to take note of large gatherings (more than 10), businesses that should not be open or people using the city’s parks, which are closed for safety,” according to a press release from the police department back in March 2020. “Staff are considering how drones may improve communication with the public under certain limited circumstances. Specifically, the department is considering one strategy to use drone mounted speakers to communicate and reach vulnerable populations in inaccessible areas of the city, like large urban canyons with homeless encampments.”

Earlier this year, CVPD made history as the first in the U.S. to obtain FAA authorization to launch from anywhere in the city. It’s also the first in the nation to obtain a two-to-one waiver, which allows it to launch two drones from each location, further providing seamless service to the community and first responders. 

The department says its drones have responded to over 7,000 separate emergencies since the program’s inception.

Visit the CVPD Drone Program Historical Flight Data page here.

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