Small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS)
The Grants Pass Police Department has integrated the use of small Unmanned Aerial Systems for use by police and fire personnel. The sUAS platforms will help improve the tactics and response of personnel with the real-time aerial information they can provide. Fiscal responsibility is vital to the operational efficiency of our department. We carefully selected our DJI Mavic 2 Enterprises to balance cost with the force-multiplying effect aerial platforms provide to law enforcement.
We have already used them to aid with searches of fleeing suspects, looking for someone having a medical emergency in a wooded area, assisting Grants Pass SWAT, and finding hot spots after firefighters battled a house fire. We envision using them to help locate missing persons, determining the direction of wildfires, and a myriad of other emergency tasks.
We track our flights and take steps to ensure we make privacy of our citizens a priority and unwavering commitment. We will use visual documentation in a limited manner only pertinent to the call. Constitutionally protected rights apply to sUAS platforms and we may not use evidence gathered in unintentional manner.
What is a drone?
Our department uses small Unmanned Aerial Systems sUAS manufactured by either DJI or Skydio. Our sUAS, commonly known as drones, are about the size of a laptop computer, have rotors that spin like a helicopter, and are equipped with video capabilities.
Are all the pilots police officers?
No. Our current pilots also include firefighters, a community service officer and a dispatcher.
This allows us to deploy personnel as needed without affecting resources. An example might be using a police officer to give an aerial fire size up as firefighters arrive on scene and extinguish the fire. This prevents us from having to use a firefighter to fly the sUAS when that person could be better used for firefighting.
Can the police use images of my backyard without my consent?
The use of the sUAS potentially involves privacy considerations. Absent a warrant or exigent circumstances, operators and observers shall adhere to FAA altitude regulations and shall not intentionally record or transmit images of any location where a person would have a reasonable expectation of privacy (e.g., residence, yard, enclosure). Operators and observers shall take reasonable precautions to avoid inadvertently recording or transmitting images of areas where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. Reasonable precautions can include, for example, deactivating or turning imaging devices away from such areas or persons during sUAS operations.
Training flights will not include visual recordings, though a tracked flight map will be documented.
The UAS shall only be operated by the Department
- Pursuant to a valid warrant authorizing its use.
- When there is probable cause to believe that a person has committed a crime, is committing a crime or about to commit a crime, and exigent circumstances exist that make it unreasonable to obtain a warrant authorizing the use.
- With written consent of an individual for the purpose of acquiring information about the individual or the individual’s property.
- As part of search and rescue activities.
- When assisting an individual in an emergency if there is a reasonable belief that there is an imminent threat to the life and safety of the individual.
- During a state of emergency declared by the Governor.
- For the purpose of reconstructing a crime scene or accident scene, or a similar physical assessment, that is related to a specific investigation.
- For the purpose of training in the use and acquisition of information.
The sUAS video surveillance equipment shall not be used
- To conduct random surveillance activities.
- To target a person based solely on individual characteristics, such as but not limited to race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, disability, gender, or sexual orientation.
- To harass, intimidate, or discriminate against any individual or group.
- To conduct personal business of any type.
I think I saw a sUAS flying over my house. How do I know if it was a Police Department sUAS?
We keep flying logs of all our flights, training or mission, and we can overlay it on Google Maps. The logs are simply geographical coordinates of the flights. We can search our logs on the day you saw the sUAS and determine if it was ours and why it was in the area of your home.
How can the Police Department fly over people or at night when I cannot with my personal sUAS?
All of our pilots have earned FAA Part 107 licenses to fly after completing a sUAS-specific ground school. Our Department obtained Certificates of Authorization from the FAA granting us exemptions for specific flight conditions. Because of the extensive process to gain the COA, our pilots are authorized to fly over 400’, fly over persons, and fly at night. We recognize these can cause additional risks and we train to be proficient under these conditions. Our pilots must follow the same airspace restrictions as any other aircraft.
What happens to the data?
We store video and photograph evidence in evidence.com., a secure, department-restricted “cloud” database. The same database also stores our body-worn camera videos and other digital evidence.
Though at this time DJI has access to our flight logs only, we hope to soon use our cloud database software and data management to prevent this sharing of flight information. We are aware of the concerns about foreign agents having access to our flight data. Our video and photographs are recorded onto a storage card and uploaded to evidence.com via a desktop computer, meaning the images are not shared with DJI.
Can I request video from sUAS missions?
Yes, if it is not an active case or otherwise prohibited by Oregon Revised Statutes. Public records requests for Grants Pass Police Department redacted video is a minimum of $85.00 and an additional $42.50 for each increment of 30 minutes staff time past the first hour. Redaction is required by privacy laws.
What if I have additional questions about the program?
Contact Lieutenant Mike Miner at 541-450-6260.
Lieutenant Mike Miner