A San Diego-area police department is considering using drones outfitted with speakers to "educate the public about the dangers" of the coronavirus, KUSI-TV reported — but Capt. Vern Sallee of the Chula Vista Police Department emphasized to the station that "we're not using drones to follow people; we're not using drones to enforce stay-at-home orders."
What's going on?
KUSI said the department has been using drones for several years primarily for emergency calls, and Sallee — who oversees the police force's drone program — added to the station that drones give officers "situational awareness" and can help them "maintain order and deescalate" incidents.
But Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a stay-at-home order for the state's 40 million residents last week in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Sallee told KUSI drones could help in that regard — but emphasized there are limits.
"We're not using drones to follow people; we're not using drones to enforce stay-at-home orders," he told the station in a phone interview. "At this point, Chula Vista is trying to educate the public about the dangers of this virus, so when we come into contact with a group of people ... out and about that shouldn't be in a public area — for instance, a closed park — we are trying to educate the public and ask them to voluntarily comply with the governor's order."
KUSI said the department is vetting the drone idea through the Federal Aviation Administration and testing speakers on drones at present. The station added that the police department has as many as 10 types of drones.
The station also said the drones can be deployed to broadcast instructions on how to get public services to known homeless encampments in canyons so officers aren't forced to negotiate the rough terrain. The drones also would enable officers to keep social distancing, KUSI noted.
What else did the police department have to say?
In the wake of media coverage about the department considering using drones amid the coronavirus pandemic, Chula Vista Police issued a clarification statement Tuesday:
The Chula Vista Police Department and its drone program were recently mentioned in several news stories nationwide. This advisory is intended to correct the record of several of those news stories.
The story originated from an interview provided by Captain Vern Sallee to a media outlet that specifically contacted CVPD to inquire about the department's potential use of drones during the COVID-19 outbreak. The interview took place before Governor [Newsom] issued an Executive stay-at-home restriction statewide on the evening of March 19, 2020.
While the quotes in the body of the original story were accurate, some lacked context and the story failed to address all aspects of the police department's drone response strategy. Unfortunately, the story has been picked up by several other media outlets and it has been sensationalized and given inaccurate headlines which serve only to cause public misunderstanding of the positive steps our organization is taking to protect Chula Vista.
The Chula Vista Police Department is not proactively enforcing the Governor's stay at home order at this time. Rather, 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. Staff have been directed to educate the public and ask for voluntary compliance with the Governor's order to stay at home. Staff are encouraging the public to refrain from leaving home if possible and have been directed to remain highly visible, to be a resource to our community and to prevent crime.
Chula Vista P.D.'s drone program is an FAA certified Public Aircraft Operator (PAO) and flies public safety missions in response to emergencies. Started in 2016, the Chula Vista Police Department's drone program has strong policies and procedures to protect the privacy and civil rights of the community while providing critical real-time information to first responders.
The department has not changed how it has used drones during this emergency, but 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. Unsheltered persons are particularly vulnerable to the current pandemic and their safety and welfare is important to stopping the spread of the disease. Left without pro-active communication and outreach, COVID-19 could spread in these populations and increase illness throughout our community.
That being said, there things that CVPD drones will not be used for. Specifically, police drones will not be used for random patrol, to follow or surveil residents going about their daily routines, or other invasive tactics which would hinder the freedoms we all enjoyment in our community.
Now more than ever, CVPD is using every available resource and tool to keep our community safe and to inform the public about our efforts. Simply put, if you see a CVPD drone, it is responding to an emergency in support of firefighters or police officers on the ground. More than ever, Chula Vista must pull together as a community to stay safe during this outbreak. CVPD will continue to use drones in a Constitutional and responsible manner to keep our community safe.
The police department in its statement doesn't name the media outlet that used quotes that "lacked context." And according to KUSI's below segment on the drones, Sallee's interview with the station took place Tuesday, March 24 — well after Newsom's stay-at-home order from last week, meaning the department is referring to a different media outlet.
(H/T: LifeSite News)