San Jose city council has voted to allow the city’s police department to use a drone, introducing regulations regarding its use after pressure from residents.
“The police got that drone without public comment first and the public became concerned as to how it would be used,” chair of the commission Larry Ames said before the vote.
“I want safety for people and I believe these rules will help do that,” said San Jose resident and San Francisco attorney Maria Alvarez. “But I am still concerned about who will be policing and regulating them [police].”
San Jose police bought the drone for $7,000 in January 2014, leading to pressure from residents fearful it would be used for surveillance for them to have input on how police would use it.
The San Jose Neighborhoods Commission held six meetings to hear public input, which helped craft the rules that were passed unanimously on Tuesday evening.
The police now have to gain permission from the Federal Aviation Administration before employing the drone.
Under the rules, the drone can only be used in two situations. First, to deliver assistance to bomb squads when dealing with explosive devices, and second, in a live shooter or hostage situation. It also will not have a recording device and the rules forbid surveillance activities on citizens. Night use is not permitted.
This goes further than the restrictions demanded by the American Civil Liberties Union, which had called for drones to “be deployed by law enforcement only with a warrant, in an emergency, or when there are specific and articulable grounds to believe the drone will collect evidence relating to a specific criminal act”, and has said images should only be retained “when there is reasonable suspicion that they contain evidence of a crime or are relevant to a an ongoing investigation or trial”.
The ACLU has repeatedly called for unified rules governing drones in the country.
But some residents are still worried. Peter Radich, 36, said: “This is something that really concerns me because we know what the government is doing by recording our emails and calls, so this could be good, but it also could be the beginning of something we don’t want.”
Mayor Sam Liccardo has previously said “there will be no surveillance, and San Jose will not be partnering with the NSA”. His office did not return calls for a further comment on the rule’s approval on Tuesday, but his office did say previously that its goal was to give aid to police and surveillance should not be a concern.
Liccardo said he hoped the rules would help other municipalities follow suit in ensuring public safety and security, with over a dozen American police departments already having applied for or received drones.
The San Jose Police Officers Association said on Tuesday afternoon that police were “pleased that this is finally getting done”. The association’s president, Sgt Paul Kelly, was unavailable for comment.