As Elk Grove Police launches drone program, they reassure it will not be used for surveillance; ACLU expresses concerns about similar programs

Armed with the additional tools provided by Measure E tax revenues, the Elk Grove Police has launched its drone first responder (DFR) program. The program will deploy drones, with enhanced features like automated battery swapping capabilities from three locations within Elk Grove to act as an advance eye for Elk Grove Police officers and Consumnes Fire Department personnel.

Yesterday, the Elk Grove Police Department released a video (see below) providing an overview of the program. Police Chief Bobby Davis and Lt. Nate Lange provided details of the program's intent.

As police department personnel did during a recent Elk Grove City Council meeting, Davis also sought to reassure Elk Grove residents that the aerial devices would not be an eye-in-the-sky to surveil activities. Taking it a step further, Davis also said the high-tech devices could improve relations with communities that distrust law enforcement. 

"There are times when law enforcement responds to a particular neighborhood or community, where to be quite honest, there has been conflict in the past, and in those communities, there are some people are concerned about the contacts they have with law enforcement," he said. "It is just another tool that the DFR will allow us to create positive contact, not one that can have a long or adverse effect in the community." 

According to a July 2023 report by the Marshall Project, over 1,500 American police departments have initiated the use of drones. Most notably, the Chula Vista, Calif. police department started its program in 2018 and has been sent to over 16,000 calls.

As noted by Davis' comments, there continues to be widespread concern about drones used for surveillance purposes. Notwithstanding Davis' and other police departments' assurances, skepticism abounds. 

In July 2023 the American Civil Liberties Union issued a memo titled "Eyes-in-the-Sky Policing Needs Strict Limits."

Citing the Chula Vista Police Department, the memo said:;

"It’s also clear that police departments will push their use of drones beyond emergency response. Proponents cite their potential usefulness in responding to dramatic crimes and emergencies, but in Chula Vista, where the police department has been running its DFR program for more than two years, a large portion of deployments are for much less serious incidents. Some of the more than 14,000 drone flights reported by Chula Vista have been responses to calls about apparently serious situations like fires, accidents, and gun violence. But many other deployments have been in response to family and domestic disputes, wellness checks, mental health evaluations, shoplifting, and “suspicious persons.” In recent months drones were dispatched in Chula Vista for reports of “loud music,” a “water leak,” and someone “bouncing a ball against a garage.”

The entire ACLU memo can be viewed below.

While Chief Davis assured residents the drones would be used only for service calls, there was no information provided when statistics about the usage would be publicly reported.  


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