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Vallejo, Calif., Police Expands Successful Drone Program

Since 2017, the Vallejo Police Department has utilized drones for a variety of public safety missions. Now, the agency will expand its drone program, with an emphasis on public outreach and transparency.

(TNS) — The Vallejo Police Department announced Thursday an expansion of its Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) Tech Team to help streamline public safety efforts and provide officers with an efficient tool for solving and reducing crime.

The tech team is now equipped with five pilots that are trained and certified by the Federal Aviation Administration as unmanned aircraft pilots. The Vallejo Police Department's UAS program (tech team) began in September 2017 when five FAA trained and certified officers were selected to operate the department's drones.

UAS, commonly known as drones, are aerial devices with onboard computer and video camera technology. The devices are operated remotely by ground-level pilots using handheld controllers. Smaller drones are battery operated and have several rotors like a helicopter.

"As our program evolves, our priority remains streamlining the program and policies to increase transparency and provide our community with a better understanding of drone technology and public safety benefits," a news release stated. "The expansion of the VPD's program will include outreach to community stakeholders, advisory boards and privacy groups like the ALCU to ensure privacy and civil liberty concerns are addressed."

In public safety operations and life preservation missions, UAS drones may be used in a variety of capacities that include but are not limited to: barricade situations, active shooter incidents, apprehension of armed and dangerous feeling suspects, high-risk search warrants, investigative scenes (fatal vehicle accidents, homicides, other aggravated incidents), missing person incidents, search and rescue operations, disaster scene incidents, hazmat incidents (suspected explosive devices, pursuant to a warrant), special events, outside public agency assists, training missions and mutual aid support.

Recently, UAS deployment resulted in the capture of an armed suspect involved in a domestic violence incident. On July 13, officers responded to a domestic violence call in the 1100 block of N. Camino Alto with reports of a man with a gun. When they arrived, officers were advised that the suspect was seen running toward apartments in the area. Officers parked at a neighboring location to launch the drone and were able to locate and guide responding units to the armed suspect. A gun was ultimately recovered from the suspect, who was arrested and booked into the Solano County Jail. The drone provided a bird's eye view, allowing officers to prepare, act with more precision, and safely take the suspect into custody.

This is not the first time VPD has been in the news recently with drones. Stories earlier this year from reporter Brian Krans as well as Open Vallejo reported that investigators were able to seize a private drone as part of the killing of 22-year-old Sean Monterrosa in Vallejo on June 2, 2020, on Redwood Street. The city claimed there was no recoverable information, but research found evidence of 90 minutes of footage before Monterrosa was killed. It's not known what happened to that footage.

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