San Jose approves police drone pilot program

The San Jose City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a one-year pilot program for a drone to be used by police under certain circumstances.

The program limits the drone’s use to incidents involving a possible explosive device and emergencies threatening people’s lives, such as an active shooter or hostage situation, with permission from a commanding officer.

Vice Mayor Rose Herrera said the drone can be a valuable tool:

“This drone could make a difference, a life and death difference, for either our officers or for the community,”

The department obtained the drone, also known as an unmanned aerial system, in January 2014 and tested it once, but have not flown it in public, police said.

The drone is a Century NEO 660 Hex-Rotor that stands 1.5 feet tall with six propellers and a GoPro Camera, according to city officials.

A log will be kept documenting who piloted the drone, where it was flown, the duration of the flight and why the device was used, city officials said.

The device wouldn’t conduct surveillance, carry weapons or have any recording capabilities, Mayor Sam Liccardo said.

The city’s Neighborhoods Commission has worked with the public and department on the policies surrounding the pilot program since last year. According to Councilman Manh Nguyen:

“There must be a continuing dialogue with the public as this program develops.”

While there is a risk of police misusing the drone as they would a wiretap or tracking device, Liccardo said, “the reality is if we need the tool we should have the tool.” The Federal Aviation Administration is expected to finalize its policies regarding public entity’s use of a drone by the end of next year, according city officials.

If the FAA approves the Police Department’s program, the drone can be used starting in 2017, city officials said.