A controversial police drone, purchased unbeknownst to many in San Jose, may not take flight until 2017. While the City Council on Tuesday will vote on a policy governing drone use, police don’t expect the Federal Aviation Administration’s blessing until the end of next year.
The San Jose Police Department quietly acquired the $8,000 drone for its bomb squad in January 2014. When the proposal came up, it was tucked away on the consent calendar as part of a request to accept a $1 million U.S. Department of Homeland Security grant.
There was no discussion and no policy on how to use the two-foot-wide, camera-strapped Century Neo 660 flying robot. Widespread criticism from residents and civil rights groups prompted the city to form a commission to drum up guidelines on when to deploy the drone. Police acknowledged they mishandled outreach on matter and held a series of public meetings.
In March, after several of these meetings, police presented a report outlining how they would use the device. They agreed not to use it for surveillance, but rather as a tool to help the bomb squad and in case of an “active shooter or other ‘exigent’ situation.”
Drone flights would also require approval from a command officer, according to the draft policy. Flight info—including the reason for deployment, location and the operator’s name—would be logged and subject to audit. The drone would not collect real-time information or store images. It wouldn’t be flown at night and would never carry weapons, biometric scanners or electronic “noses.”
Here's the full report going to the council.
This past spring, the San Jose Neighborhoods Commission recommended that the council approve a one-year pilot program. If the council OKs the plan this week, police would then ask the FAA for permission to operate the drone.
But the FAA has yet to finalize its own policy for public agency drone use. SJPD Chief Larry Esquivel said he expects that process will be finalized at the end of 2016, which would force the city to launch its pilot some time in 2017.
Here' s a copy of the commission's report:
More from the San Jose City Council agenda for August 11, 2015:
- Given the urgent lack of affordable housing, several council members called for a moratorium on mobile home park conversions. A memo signed by Mayor Sam Liccardo and council members Chappie Jones, Tam Nguyen, Manh Nguyen and Rose Herrera directs the city to freeze conversions until they come up with a policy protecting low-income residents from displacement. “It is our belief that there is an immediate threat to the public health and welfare of mobile home park residents, particularly elderly residents who can be disproportionately impacted by such a major change in their living situation,” the memo states. “A temporary moratorium will give staff the opportunity to craft recommendations for council consideration without the pressure of an impending closure and give residents the assurance that we are working towards more coherent policies.”
- The council will vote on terms of a Measure B alternative, to settle litigation with police and fire unions over controversial pension reforms. Councilman Raul Peralez, a former SJPD officer, said the city should reflect on what it's learned in the conflict over Measure B these past four years. Opposing arguments weren’t respectfully considered, he said, and inflammatory language incited anger and resentment. “As we see too often at the national level, the end result of the politics of resentment is bad governance,” he wrote. “Measure B might have been an effective political tool for stoking resentment, but it was not an effective policy tool for solving the city’s problems.”
- San Jose plans to turn the old Plaza Hotel in downtown into transitional housing for the homeless.
- Some council members want to deny a permit to open a club called Vanity SJ in downtown. The city already spends $1 million a year policing clubs, according to a memo signed by Liccardo and council members Peralez and Magdalena Carrasco. The "ultra lounge" also drew opposition from the San Jose Downtown Association. In a letter to Peralez, the neighborhood group said the club would be the wrong fit for the historic building. "We did not come to this recommendation easily," SJDTA Director Scott Knies wrote in the Aug. 6 letter. "There is a reluctance on the SJDA board to oppose business proposals by our members. Nevertheless, given the number of clubs and bars on this block already, plus the ongoing security issues around Fountain Alley and the VTA Santa Clara stations on First and Second Streets, we could not support another large club at 58 S. First St."
- A new state law requires cities to fast track permitting for residential solar panels.
- Willow Glen landlords will chip in about $235,000 this year for their business improvement district, which pays for maintenance, landscaping, décor and events.
- The city spent $4.56 million on community-based gang prevention in 2013-14.
WHAT: City Council meets
WHEN: 1:30pm Tuesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260