The drones are part of a pilot program between the Federal Aviation Administration, Chula Vista and the city of San Diego.
(TNS) — The Chula Vista Police Department this week began using drones to respond to 911 calls.
Since Monday, drones responded to 30 emergency calls and led to three arrests, including one for felony domestic violence.
In the domestic violence case, the drone hovered above a red tent in a canyon where a homeless man suspected of stabbing a woman with a knife was hiding out. The drone broadcast live footage to police officers’ cell phones who maneuvered over brush and difficult terrain to get to the tent.
The drone’s camera captured the suspect exiting the tent without a knife and police officers made an arrest without incident.
Chula Vista’s drones are part of a pilot program between the Federal Aviation Administration, Chula Vista, and the city of San Diego.
The program allows the Chula Vista Police Department to test drones and relay data back to the FAA as the federal agency rewrites regulations. The FAA gave the police department permission to fly drones at night and above people and traffic during emergencies.
Some of the regulations the FAA is considering changing is to allow drones to be flown remotely without someone maintaining a direct line of sight at all times.
Currently, drones have to stay within a one-mile radius of police headquarters on Fourth Avenue while a trained pilot stands on the police station’s roof to keep an eye on the drone.
“Eventually, where we want to get to is where they’ll be able to launch from their control center anywhere in the city without having the guy on the roof,” said FAA Program Manager Darryl Adams.
Depending on how the pilot program goes, that could happen as early as six months or one year from now, Adams added.
The police department is working with a company called CAPE, whose technology allows drones to be flown on autopilot while officers view live footage from miles away.
Chula Vista Police Chief Roxana Kennedy believes the drones will increase response times and officer safety.
“It provides us eyes on things we may not have an opportunity to see and that is going to be amazing for us in law enforcement,” she said. “Right now, we can arrive within two minutes to any emergency call and start providing real-time information to our officers.”
Chula Vista’s long-term goal for the program is to have a fleet of about eight or nine drones set up throughout the city so that they could respond to any emergency call within two minutes.
Currently, it takes patrol vehicles on average more than 6-and-a-half minutes to respond to emergency calls, according to Police Department data.
©2018 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.