San Jose Police Admit Lack of Transparency in Drone Purchase

In the face of mounting criticism about its acquisition of a drone, the San Jose Police Department admitted that the process was not conducted in a transparent fashion and the drone will not be deployed before addressing community concerns.

"In hindsight, SJPD should have done a better job of communicating the purpose and acquisition of the UAS device to our community," the department said in a statement Tuesday. "The community should have the opportunity to provide feedback, ask questions, and express their concerns before we move forward with this project. To this end, we will first develop a community outreach plan before we take steps to deploy the UAS."

SJPD acquired the drone for its bomb squad and the purchase might have avoided public scrutiny if not for Muckrock's nationwide reporting on local law enforcement agencies purchasing a drone, or Unmanned Aerial System (UAS). San Jose's drone cost $7,000 and was funded through a Homeland Security grant. There was no substantial discussion of the acquisition by San Jose's City Council, which fast-tracked the purchase of a drone through its consent calendar.

Thomas Mann Miller, of the American Civil Liberties Union of  Northern California,was one of many privacy advocates who challenged to what ends the drone, which can be loaned out to other Bay Area law enforcement agencies, may be deployed.

“Drones can be used for a whole range of things, from the benign, like conservation efforts, to the highly objectionable, like dragnet surveillance and targeted killings,” Miller wrote. “Today, SJPD may say the drone will be used to  inspect suspected bombs, but tomorrow it may want to use it to survey a ‘high-crime’ neighborhood. That’s why having a policy matters.”

Below is the full statement released Tuesday by the San Jose Police Department:

"In January, 2014, the San Jose Police Department purchased an Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) that was funded as part of a federal Homeland Security grant accepted by the San Jose City Council in November 2013. The UAS is a Century Neo 660 radio-controlled hex-rotor (six-rotor) hobbyist-style helicopter that is equipped with a camera.

"SJPD intends to use the UAS primarily to access potential explosive devices and avoid exposing police bomb squad personnel to possible hazards. The UAS can be flown over a device to obtain images that would assist the bomb technicians. Another possible use would be for situations that threaten public safety. These could include dangers such as active shooters, hostage taking, or other such tactical situations where lives might be in immediate danger.

"SJPD strives to explore new technology that can help our department protect the community more effectively and efficiently. The UAS is an example of this, but it also is one of many projects the SJPD is working on. Other pressing issues facing SJPD, such as patrol staffing, employee retention and recruitment, Community Service Officer program, and Body Worn Camera project, have higher priorities at this time.

"In hindsight, SJPD should have done a better job of communicating the purpose and acquisition of the UAS device to our community. The community should have the opportunity to provide feedback, ask questions, and express their concerns before we move forward with this project. To this end, we will first develop a community outreach plan before we take steps to deploy the UAS.

"Following the completion of the community outreach efforts, the Department will then develop the policy and procedures that will provide an appropriate and practical framework to guide our operation of the UAS. At the same time, we will continue to research legal implications and Federal Aviation Administration requirements for the operation a UAS by SJPD. [sic]

"We are confident that this technology can improve certain police operational efficiencies and help enhance public and officer safety in specific critical incidents. However, SJPD will not use the UAS until these outreach and procedural steps have been completed and approved."

Josh Koehn is a former managing editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley.

8 Comments

  1. “There was no substantial discussion of the acquisition by San Jose’s City Council, which fast-tracked the purchase of a drone through its consent calendar.” If there were concerns, the mayor and or somebody on the city council should have brought this up. This article is just another chance to slam an already demoralized and demonized police department.

  2. In it’s continuing effort to turn SJPD into an evil organization, local media continues using fringe activists. That’s fine, reap what you sow. Soon enough the police will have no motivation to please you ingrates, to go along with scarce resources. See how well it’s worked out for LAPD? That’s where this misinformation march will take you.

  3. So let me get this straight, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, one of many privacy advocates who challenged to what ends the drone may be used, stated in part, “Drones can be used for a whole range of things, from the benign, like conservation efforts, to the highly objectionable, like dragnet surveillance and targeted killings,” and “Today, SJPD may say the drone will be used to inspect suspected bombs, but tomorrow it may want to use it to survey a ‘high-crime’ neighborhood. That’s why having a policy matters.”

    Um, I’m pretty sure they already do that with a manned aircraft (non-drone) called a helicopter (Air 2). Last I checked it was buzzing around my neighborhood at night with a flashlight that could light up an entire block. From what I’ve heard, it has a camera with night vision too. I know, scary.

    “Dragnet Surveillance?” Oh, you mean a systematic search for criminals? A type of tactical surveillance used by every law enforcement agency in this country and around the world as a tool to help catch bad guys? i.e. cold cars operated by plain clothed officers. The way the ACLU portrays this whole nonsense, you would think I (John Q Public) should be looking over my shoulders because those darn pesky police would be spending their limited time and effort following me when I took my kids to school and then drove to work and back.

    Just exactly how does such a drone, which anyone can similarly buy at your local Brookstone, create such a scare amongst the intellectuals who are purportedly so concerned about our civil liberties?

    Appears like a lot of people have nothing better to complain about in this town. As for me, I’m willing to believe the police will in fact use their new toy for its intended purpose, if not, I’m also willing to forgo a little anonymity for the greater good (safer streets), which has been in short supply lately (different subject).

    Jus’ Sayin’.

  4. Do you have something to hide. Get a life. All you information is out there anyway. If you follow the law no worries, if you are a crook it will help to find you. We have bigger problems to worry about.

    Vote Cortese.

  5. The CLU Flak said” Today, SJPD may say the drone will be used to inspect suspected bombs, but tomorrow it may want to use it to survey a ‘high-crime’ neighborhood.” I don’t have a problem with anything that can help save a cop’s life in a high crime neighborhood. Apparently the CLU does. “The UAS is a Century Neo 660 radio-controlled hex-rotor (six-rotor) hobbyist-style helicopter that is equipped with a camera.” We paid $7k for a hobbyist helicoptor?

  6. First of all, it is as ridiculous to expect quality administrative performance out of SJPD’s command staff as it is to expect fast responses from its depleted patrol force. The sad state of affairs of both are due to the city council playing politics with the police department, and neither can be cured with a quick fix. Mayor Reed and his ship of fools have made it impossible for the city to attract police chief candidates with an intellect and administrative track record worthy of a city of this size, just as they’ve made it impossible to attract qualified entry-level applicants. The current chief appears to be a nice guy, and is certainly capable of doing great street work (which cannot be said of the two previous chiefs), but let’s hope he retires before his penchant for doing nothing causes the department to lose even more ground. As for the department’s second in command, well, unless there’s a PED available for boosting administrative acumen, let’s hope a job opportunity opens up in Gustine.

    Secondly, if the department is going to seek input from the community about the use of a drone, I suggest they accept input in only two forms: email and snail mail. No show trials at the council chambers or community centers, where the usual jackasses show up for another opportunity to exaggerate, vilify, and slander. This process can be justified by the lack of police resources available to keep such public free-for-alls safe. Keep the email window open for a month, make paper and crayons available at the various community centers, and let anyone unhappy with the process take it up with an elected, not appointed, public servant. That should take enough of the fun out of the process to allow local burnouts to get back to their medicinal weed, and ACLU types to resume wondering why their membership is so disproportionately ugly.

  7. Insane, this is nothing more than public opinion shaping, make the cops appear evil while Reed your criminal Mayor attacks the Union. How about if SJPD gives me their drone it would make a wonderful toy and useful for taking photos. I would have fun with it. In turn I will go on Amazon and purchase one of those little whilte 4 prop helicopter units that you control with your iPhone or iPad and carries a camera. It does pretty much that same thing and its sold as a toy to any kid that can afford one.

    I wonder would you appose SJPD putting a camera on a ballon with a long string to get up high ? what if SJPD flew its helicopter over the crime scene to get a photo. what if SJPD used its fixed wing plane to get a photo or two. This “drone” does nothing that SJPD has not been doing for years using another vehicle. All this does is do what a helicopter can do except faster and cheaper.

    Lets worry about real things like how it was the Mayor of San Jose was allowed to return the $30,000 he stole and avoid going to prison. Why a country supervisor, ex – san jose city council member who opposed Reed was prosecuted for stealing ? Makes you wonder ? Think your vote counts ? how about how Reed purchased a city council seat by tossing in a $100,000 illegally to the candidate he picked for city council insuring he would have the votes for the projects he needed.

    I can careless about a toy that flies in the air until they do something illegal with it. the truth is a bomb drone will see very little flight time. How many Bomb incidents where there is a call out needing an over head view occurring in san jose a year 2 maybe 3 ?

    What Reed did was cut pay and benefits to cause officers to leave. He knew this would happen and it was done to defund the SJPOA so they could not afford to oppose his pension measure. Basically he is killing off his enemies so know one will oppose him. The public will be blind to the real issues and he can pass whatever law he chooses. Ask yourself this did you enjoy your PGE bill when Enron was skewing you over? Do you know Reed is funded with 20 million dollars by one of the hedge fund managers from Enron. A man who made billions for Enron and now wants to invest or steal the billions that sit in government pension funds. So we have a mayor who stealing teamed up with a hedge fund manager of a company that stole billions of dollars all over California. Does this sound like organized crime ?