After receiving some public backlash after it was revealed they had bought an unmanned aerial system (UAS), the San Jose Police Department (SJPD) has released a statement regarding the purchase.
In January 2014, the SJPD says, it purchased a UAS, which 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.
The SJPD says it intends to use the UAS primarily to access potential explosive devices and avoid exposing police bomb squad personnel to possible hazards. They explain that 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: active shooters, hostages or other such tactical situations where lives might be in immediate danger.
The police department says it strives to explore new technology that can help them protect the community more effectively and efficiently, and the UAS is one example, but it is not as high priority as developing, for example, patrol staffing, employee retention and recruitment, a Community Service Officer program, and Body Worn Camera project.
In hindsight, the SJPD notes, it should have done a better job of communicating the purpose and acquisition of the UAS device to the community, which should have the opportunity to provide feedback, ask questions and express concerns before the project moves forward.
To this end, the police force says it will first develop a community outreach plan before they take steps to deploy the aircraft. 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 the operation of the UAS.
At the same time, they will continue to research legal implications and Federal Aviation Administration requirements.
The SJPD says it is confident that the technology can improve certain police operational efficiencies and help enhance public and officer safety in specific critical incidents. However, SJPD stresses that it will not use the UAS until these outreach and procedural steps have been completed and approved.