San Jose Police Dept. Spends Two Years Denying Any Interest In Drones Before Apologizing And Handing Over Documents

from the sorry-about-all-that-lying dept

The San Jose Police Department has spent more than two years denying it has a drone in its possession, having returned no responsive documents to MuckRock during its 2012 and 2013 "drone census" document requests. The drone the SJPD pretended to not have in its possession (until just recently) may have not been acquired until early 2014, but its grant application was actually submitted sometime prior to November 30, 2012. But this is how the SJPD responded during previous requests.

On December 17, 2012, an analyst within the SJPD Research and Development Unit specifically responded that the department had no records regarding research into drones or plans to use unmanned aerial vehicles.

In October 2013, SJPD swatted away a second request for records.

“Our Department does not use aerial drones, remotely piloted vehicles (RPVs), remotely piloted aircraft (RPAs), unmanned aerials (UAs), unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and/or unmanned aerial systems (UASs), nor does our Fiscal Unit have any records related to these items,” wrote Monique Villarreal, an R&D analyst in the SJPD chief’s office, on October 16, 2013.
Unfortunately for the SJPD, its drone-acquisition activities were generating paperwork elsewhere -- documents it couldn't hide, like city council meeting minutes in which funding for an unmanned aerial vehicle was discussed.

Now, the SJPD has turned over all of its drone documents, along with an apology for hiding this information from the public.
In hindsight, SJPD should have done a better job of communicating the purpose and acquisition of the UAS device to our community. The community should have the opportunity to provide feedback, ask questions, and express their concerns before we move forward with this project. To this end, we will first develop a community outreach plan before we take steps to deploy the UAS.

Following the completion of the community outreach efforts, the Department will then develop the policy and procedures that will provide an appropriate and practical framework to guide our operation of the UAS. At the same time, we will continue to research legal implications and Federal Aviation Administration requirements for the operation a UAS by SJPD.

We are confident that this technology can improve certain police operational efficiencies and help enhance public and officer safety in specific critical incidents. However, SJPD will not use the UAS until these outreach and procedural steps have been completed and approved.
This might be of some comfort going forward, but what the SJPD claims was just a failure to communicate was actually a more proactive effort to keep this information out of the public's hands.

The drone documents that came bundled with an apology also contain assertions by the department that its new toy doesn't fall under the FAA's (very vague) regulatory policies. For one, the department doesn't consider its unmanned aerial vehicle to be a "drone." Despite its use by a law enforcement agency, the SJPD -- citing an "advisory" issued in 1981 by the Dept. of Transportation -- claims its UAV is completely indistinguishable from a hobbyist's. But its decision to go with a hobbyist-style "drone" doesn't make it automatically exempt from FAA regulation.
[T]he FAA has long made clear that all government agencies require authorization to operate an unmanned aerial vehicle in domestic airspace, regardless of the particular body type or where the unit was purchased. Hobby UAVs that weigh less than 55 pounds and fly under 400 feet are exempt from licensing requirements, but hobbyist rules do not apply to governmental applications.
This assertion also contradicts other memos released by the department, which state that the drone must remain shelved until its compliance with FAA regulations is determined.

The SJPD says the drone will have a very specific use -- to act as eyes for its bomb squad. If that's true, there's no reason it should have kept its plans a secret for two years. A large percentage of the public would be on board with narrowly prescribed usage. Mission creep is always going to be an issue, but being open with the public (and asking for its opinion) is one of the best ways to prevent abuse of new surveillance technology. Having to be forced into openness isn't exactly encouraging, but at least the SJPD will have more eyes on it going forward.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 8th, 2014 @ 3:51pm

    Mike Masnick, Watch Out

    I think the San Jose PD has finally discovered Techdirt, and they're none too pleased with your site's criticism of law enforcement!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 8th, 2014 @ 4:24pm

    Accountability never heard of it. That only applies to those crushed under their jackboots

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    icon
    Dave Cortright (profile), Aug 8th, 2014 @ 4:51pm

    Partial credit where partial credit is due

    At least—unlike many other bad actors who are the subject of TechDirt shame—the finally did stop digging the hole the found themselves in. Hopefully it's a permanent strategy shift, and they're not just taking a break to upgrade to a backhoe.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 8th, 2014 @ 4:53pm

    Yeah, now it has a specifc use...

    "The SJPD says the drone will have a very specific use -- to act as eyes for its bomb squad."

    I'm sure that prior to deciding to finally disclose this information, the "specific use" was a bit less specific... and all of a sudden, they had to actually decide what it would be used for, rather than just "Law Enforcement Toys"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    icon
    That One Guy (profile), Aug 8th, 2014 @ 5:07pm

    The Department Has Spoken

    Following the completion of the community outreach efforts, the Department will then develop the policy and procedures that will provide an appropriate and practical framework to guide our operation of the UAS.

    I can't help but notice that they are going off the assumption that they will be deploying the thing, so apparently any comments from the community that might be counter to that will just be ignored or dismissed.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 8th, 2014 @ 6:59pm

    Admission /= Apology

    Saying there is an apology in there is a bit of a stretch. I only see them being forced into admitting something, then trying to cover their asses with sweet talk.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), Aug 8th, 2014 @ 11:13pm

    Re: Yeah, now it has a specifc use...

    This is the only thing they could think of that sounded like...Terrorism!

    It's really for surveillance, but that is just so unpopular these days that they needed to find the obligatory terrorism connection to keep the vict*... citizens quiet.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 9th, 2014 @ 12:12am

    Re: Re: Yeah, now it has a specifc use...

    dissent is terrorism. Thinking for yourself is a dangerous path and the police want to help people by terrorising them into becoming fearful sheep.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 9th, 2014 @ 2:05pm

    Re: The Department Has Spoken

    Do they have ballot initiatives in San Jose? It would be amusing if a ban kept drones out of their hands for decades. Even if drones became common delivery bots by then. Not due to simple legal inertia but the ban on police drones due to their dishonesty and lack of transparency showing that they couldn't be trusted with drones.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    TestPilotDummy, Aug 10th, 2014 @ 12:15pm

    Drones vs Toys

    I think they got this drone thing all wrong, from the beginning. When you can call a Jet Aircraft fly by wire the same thing as a COX Airplane, you've pushed TRUTH too far.

    I was for drones originally.
    Then I seen the nasty-ness of that belief.
    Now I am not for DRONES. But I found the nazi wordsmithing is such that If I am against drones, I am also against TOYS.

    These words need to be stolen back. And set history straight. It's the oath breakers doin it. And that's why Ft Leavenworth needs a new wing.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    icon
    nasch (profile), Aug 11th, 2014 @ 11:01am

    Lies

    This might be of some comfort going forward, but what the SJPD claims was just a failure to communicate was actually a more proactive effort to keep this information out of the public's hands.

    This might be of some comfort going forward, but what the SJPD claims was just a failure to communicate was actually lying to the public.

    FTFY

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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