The Irvine City Council voted 4-0 for the Irvine Police Department’s (IPD’s) establishment of an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) on Sept. 25. Following program approval, the UAS Team is permitted to fly and operate a single drone to assist with crime investigations, search for missing persons, and respond to and evaluate natural disasters. The UAS’ mission is “to assist police personnel in enhancing public safety while protecting the rights and privacy of the general public.” IPD is allocating $29,000 of their training budget toward the program.
The Irvine Police Department is now the second law enforcement agency to deploy drones in Orange County. Laguna Beach Police Department launched their unmanned aircraft program earlier this year.
IPD emphasized respecting privacy rights of the Irvine community. Their policy states, “To the extent possible, any camera onboard a drone will be pointed away from occupied structures and uninvolved persons, and no pictures or recordings will be made during flight to and from an approved deployment location.” Additionally, their evidence will be retained according to the City and Public Safety policy. As such, images or video that have no evidentiary value will not be retained.
“The Irvine Police Department respects the privacy of all members of our community,” Irvine Police Lieutenant Bill Bingham said. “When developing proposed policies related to approved and prohibited uses, privacy, and data retention, we gave consideration to recommendations from civil liberty groups.”
The deployment guideline on City Council and police records listed two scenarios in which the drone could be deployed: static and dynamic.
A static situation is one where the UAS is deployed in a controlled environment in a manner that is considered non-intrusive to the general public. Police training, traffic collision investigations, and burglary responses are listed as static situations.
A dynamic situation involves drone flight in a less stable situation where there may be imminent danger, threat to life, or bodily injury. Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) operations, high risk warrant service, and weapons search are considered dynamic situations. The area in which dynamic operations take place may not be fully secured by police personnel.
Irvine does not regulate drone operations in the city. However, drone operators and pilots must abide by regulations set by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The Irvine Police Department will adhere to all FAA flight regulations and obtain proper authorization for flight.
A May 28 article by the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College stated that over 910 police, fire, and emergency rescue agencies in the United States own drones. In the state of California alone, 58 public safety agencies run drone programs. Unmanned aircraft has been increasingly deployed by state and local law enforcement operations nationwide, and drone ownership in public safety agencies has increased by 82 percent since 2017. The U.S. Department of Justice has estimated drone operational costs to be much lower than that of typical manned aircrafts used in law enforcement. At present, over twice as many U.S. agencies own drones compared to manned aircraft.