Modesto council committee to get update on police drone program


Police officials on Monday will brief a City Council committee on the Modesto Police Department’s new drone program, which consists of two of the unmanned aerial vehicles.

Police Chief Galen Carroll wrote in a report to the Great Safe Neighborhoods Committee that because members of the public may view drones as an invasion of their privacy, police will not use them for random surveillance. Instead, Carroll wrote, the drones will be used for specific operations, such as search and rescue and crime scene investigations. The drones will record video, which the department will keep as evidence.

The department purchased a Phantom 4 and Inspire Pro, but the program still is in the training stages.

The report states that the Federal Aviation Administration has given the Police Department a certificate of authorization to operate the drones. The department has three licensed pilots who are trained to operate the drones. “As this program grows,” Carroll wrote, “so will the need to train additional officers to operate these devices.”

Each drone can be in the air for about 28 minutes at a time and is powered by rechargeable batteries. The report states that the annual cost of operating the program is $1,500 to $2,200, which includes purchasing replacement drones and batteries. Insurance costs about $1,000 annually per drone.

Carroll’s report asks committee members to forward the matter to the full council for approval, even though the Police Department has purchased the drones and is establishing the program.

“We could have just rolled out the program and did not necessarily need council approval,” Carroll said in an email. “However, given some misunderstanding that occurs with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and their use, I believed it should come in front of the council. The program is not fully implemented. We are in the training stage, which is the very first phase required by the FAA.”

Police officials plan to demonstrate the drones and answer questions Tuesday during an event for the news media.

The Police Department conducted extensive research in recent months before starting the program. Carroll wrote that the program is another example of his understaffed department using technology as a “force multiplier” to get more done.

This is not the first time the Police Department has looked to the sky to fight crime. The department brought forward a proposal to the council in late 2015 to spend as much as $660,000 to purchase a high-tech plane that would patrol the city. The proposal ran into resistance from council members and the public and remains on hold.

The Great Safe Neighborhoods Committee also will look Monday at a recent Modesto ordinance that lets the city issue $1,000 administrative citations to property owners, property management companies and others who have control over property at which tenants have set off illegal fireworks.

Fire Department officials hoped the ordinance would take effect ahead of the recent Fourth of July holiday. But because of a paperwork mistake, the ordinance did not take effect until July 14. But the ordinance has drawn concern from property owners, property management companies and others in the real estate industry. The City Council decided June 28 to revisit the ordinance and referred it to its Great Safe Neighborhoods Committee.

The committee cannot take final action on the ordinance, but can make recommendations to the full council.

The committee meeting will be open to the public and will start at 5 p.m. in room 2005 on the second floor of Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St.

Kevin Valine: 209-578-2316