Sheriff Wants Aerial Surveillance Drones To Patrol Alameda County

Sheriff Greg Ahern seeks a grant to make Alameda County one of the first locales in California to deploy unmanned aerial systems in civilian settings.


Sheriff Gregory Ahern is seeking a grant to purchase unmanned aerial drones to provide video and infrared surveillance in police, fire and rescue settings. 

"We're not getting this thing on Tuesday," Ahern told his advisory committee in a briefing Monday afternoon.

But the sheriff's office has already done preliminary tests of a four-pound drone that could carry a camera to provide live video or an infrared device to track the heat of bodies, fires or possibly the lights of indoor pot growing operations.

The device, which would cost $50,000 to $100,000, would be remotely controlled by an operator on the ground and hover over crime or fire scenes.

"This would be less expensive, more valuable and have more uses (than a helicopter)," said Ahern, adding that a helicopter cost $3 million buy and upwards of $300 an hour to operate.

If Ahern's plan moves forward, Alameda County would become a pioneer in the deployment of small -- and, so far, nonlethal -- versions of the drones that the military is using in Afghanistan.

The county's plans are the tip of an iceberg that Congress set in motion when it passed the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization act earlier this year.

That act required the FAA to create rules to permit the deployment of civilian drones weighing 25 pounds or less - not just for law enforcement but for any business that wants eyes in the skies.

News sources that followed the development estimate that 30,000 civilian drones could be flying U.S. skies by 2020.

The American Civil Liberties Union has criticized the move toward civilian drones.

“This bill would push the nation willy-nilly toward an era of aerial surveillance without any steps to protect the traditional privacy that Americans have always enjoyed and expected,” the ACLU has said.

The FAA is supposed to write rules governing the use of civilian drones for law enforcement by the end of 2012. At that point the county will apply for a "certificate of authorization" or a permit spelling out what sorts of uses would be permitted.

Sheriff's department officials said Alameda County could be the first jurisdiction in California to deploy drones and among the first nationwide.

Members of the sheriff's advisory committee asked Monday if the drones would be armed. They were told there no.

Police surveillance technology has been in the news.

A recent Wall Street Journal article focused on how San Leandro police use an automated license plate tracking technology to capture and keep information about law-abiding citizens at the same time they use it to fight crime.

San Leandro political activist and school board member Mike Katz-Lacabe told the Journal that the technology gave police too much power to track citizens who had broken no law.

San Leandro Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli has countered that the plate reader solves crimes such as the recent recovery of a truck that stolen at gunpoint during a carjacking.

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Fred Eiger October 09, 2012 at 12:59 PM
Ahern needs to start acting like a cop and get tough on criminals instead of coddling them and being politically correct for the Berkeley/Oakland Leftisits.
David October 09, 2012 at 01:07 PM
He only made $525,000 last year ($290k cash comp). It's hard to come up with new ideas when you're busy buying your retirement mansion.
Warren October 09, 2012 at 04:30 PM
The sheriff's department should be stopped in its tracks on this. They want to view everything you do INSIDE your home and in your YARD, but it is "for your protection". There is no freedom when the police can view everything you do. Did your wife sun herself with her top off in your back yard? That will be a lot of fun for the sheriffs to watch. Do you have a legitimate hyrophonic garden INSIDE your house, or maybe an indoor hot tub? Looks like pot to the sheriff's peeping tom in the sky. Expect a knock on the door. We are already at the edge of a police state where everything you do is monitored to make the job of the police easier. Sure, they can solve crimes more easily. If they could monitor every conversation everyone has in their home, monitor everywhere everyone goes, monitor every penny everyone spends and on what, monitor every email, listen in on every phone call, monitor every web site everyone visits, monitor every web posting everyone makes, monitor everything, then they could solve a LOT more crimes. Is that the world we want to live in?
Leah Hall October 09, 2012 at 07:40 PM
We hippies in this part of the Broadmoor Neighborhood think this idea makes a lot of sense. Drone over some of our neighbor's illegal grow operations on these 1/4 acre lots, please. :-)
Rob Raistlin October 09, 2012 at 09:41 PM
there isnt enough crime to justify unwarranted surveillance. my rights are more important. but thats just me. besides if you're so concerned with what your neighbors are doing then make the phone call yourself.
Leah Hall October 09, 2012 at 09:45 PM
Drone over Rob Raistlin's backyard too, please. Pretty please. :-)
Rob Raistlin October 09, 2012 at 10:12 PM
oh no leah. ladies first. i insist.
Theresa Lupo October 09, 2012 at 11:18 PM
Ok Rob ...where do you live?LOL....can we have a BBQ in your backyard ?
Fred Eiger October 10, 2012 at 12:46 AM
If Leah is sun bathing naked, I don't want a drone over that house.
Tom Abate (Editor) October 10, 2012 at 01:23 AM
How did we get down to disrobing? Let's keep our shirts on, please.
Carol Parker October 10, 2012 at 01:35 AM
This takes video surveillance to a whole new level, doesn't it. It also makes me wonder whether the technology is outpacing the laws around it. Many questions come to mind such as what kind of training will someone have to operate these, what (if any) limits will be placed on how and where they are used, who will be able to see the images they capture, how long will those images be kept, will those images be admissible in a court of law and who has custody and control of them, can those images be released to the public under FICA, will people outside of law enforcement be allowed to own and operate these (think private investigators, employers, government agency investigators such as the IRS etc). Will Alameda County be a testing ground not only for the technology but the court battles that will ensue about their use? What will that cost the county and is that price worth it?
David October 10, 2012 at 01:52 AM
It's one thing to take pictures of people on public property out and about. That can be creepy, but you can make a fair argument it's legal, as it's in the public sphere. It's another thing to peer into your private property, and under traditional definitions of property, you own your land "and the blue skies above." I seem to recall some part of the Bill of Rights having to do with preventing unlawful searches and seizures. If only our "public servants" recalled that same Constitution.
Fred Eiger October 10, 2012 at 02:08 AM
Justin H. October 10, 2012 at 02:38 AM
I agree with what David says..I am okay with Cameras on public streets where you really have no expectation of privacy, but that is crazy as hell to think about an unmanned drone patrolling US skys shooting imagery inside houses, etc...
Warren October 10, 2012 at 03:42 AM
Surveillance in PUBLIC places is more than "taking pictures" and storing them. Facial recognition and rapidly expanding use of tracking software provides the government with automated tracking of every individual from the moment you leave your home. Paranoid? Facial recognition is so pervasive, powerful and accurate that even Facebook has it. It's creepy enough to be automatically "tagged" in a group picture because your friend posted it on Facebook. It's frightening when the government cameras recognize you and monitor your every movement. This mature facial recognition technology means that one camera picture of you is matched to your Drivers License, and from then on the system knows who you are. Everywhere a camera see you your face is recognized. Where you go, how long you stayed, who you met with, who your friends are, if you do something every day, if you do something out of the ordinary, and every piece of information about you and who you meet is directly analyzed. Did you park near a drug house? Or go up to the wrong address? Expect a knock on your door from Big Brother. It's just not OK to say that monitoring our every move in public is a satisfactory compromise if only they would just "leave us alone on our property". It's a sad day when the answer is to retreat behind steel walls (to prevent IR imaging) in windowless boxes to keep the prying eyes of the airborne government peeping toms from watching our every move.
Leah Hall October 10, 2012 at 04:49 AM
As if San Leandro has an epidemic of nude sunbathers. Illegal pot grows? Alas. Here's my kind of backyard hobby - a film created by my daughter Simone when she was about 10 years old featuring our neighbor and Orchid enthusiast, Paul Chim "The Flower Man." Our hero! http://sanleandro.patch.com/events/orchid-garden-fundraiser-in-the-broadmoor#youtube_video-5636855
Leah Hall October 10, 2012 at 05:00 AM
Simone shot this with our first Flip camera. Now our cell phones and ipads do a better job with software upgrades and amazing resolution.
Leah Hall October 10, 2012 at 05:18 AM
Google "Prince Harry" and "billiards." Don't tell mum. ;-)
Sean C. October 10, 2012 at 04:00 PM
The San Leandro Police Department has already proven that it cannot be trusted with license plate reading technology on the ground; they used it to capture and track data on citizens who did nothing more than just drive in San Leandro. Imagine what kind of civil right violations they and other members of the law enforcement industry commit once they get their hands on a drone. Check out more information on this subject from on article on drones in your backyard in the Week: http://theweek.com/article/index/228830/the-drone-over-your-backyard-a-guide
Leah Hall October 10, 2012 at 05:42 PM
The last paragraph of Sean C.'s article caught my eye: "A drone of one's own" Drone manufacturers and law enforcement aren't the only ones eager to see unmanned vehicles hit the skies. There's a growing and enthusiastic subculture of do-it-yourself drone-makers across the United States, who spend weekends tinkering on homemade drones. Chris Anderson, the editor-in-chief of Wired magazine, is perhaps their biggest evangelist. Several years ago, he brought home a toy robotics kit and a remote-controlled airplane and combined the two, so that the plane could fly on autopilot. His kids went back to their video games, but Anderson was hooked. He created DIYDrones.com, a site for amateur drone enthusiasts that now has more than 25,000 members. They say the proliferation of cheap sensors, chips, and cameras makes it easier than ever to assemble your own flying robot. "If you have an iPhone or an Android, you basically have an autopilot in your pocket," says Anderson, who compares DIY drone-makers to early personal computer hobbyists. "Right now, drones are scary," Anderson says. "I'd like to make them unscary." With some safeguards in place, I am a happy camper with law enforcement's exploration/application of drones. Folks, when it comes to flying powerful high resolution cameras around remotely in the air, I say "try to stop them if you can."
Bill Gannon October 10, 2012 at 05:54 PM
Let me ask this question. How is this different from a police helicopter overflying your house/yard? The helo has video capability as well and can zoom in with its cameras and Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR). But we do not see any stories about police helicopters flying over cities doing unwarranted surveillance do we? The use of drones as a new potential tool has everyone being paranoid. I always laugh when I hear people saying we are developing into a police state. Really, how often are any of you stopped by the police who ask you for "your papers." Get real and ask yourself, were you breaking vehicle codes when you last got pulled over? I know I did the last time I was stopped and received my ticket. That was over 20 years ago when I was not working in law enforcement. Since I have been employed, I have not been pulled over because I don't drive like an idiot and I do make a concerted effort to obey the traffic laws. If you do that, guess what? You don't get pulled over by the POLICE! If you have further questions, I refer you to the accompanying link. http://www.hinkles.us/chuckbo/Humor/Detectives.html
Warren October 10, 2012 at 08:10 PM
The police would love for people to equate a helicopter to a drone. However, there is a huge difference and it's a false comparison. First, the helicopters are large and noisy. You know where they are because you can't miss them. Drones are quiet and small. They can circle secretly right outside your yard or home, watching your every move and you will not likely notice them. Second, it is expected that 30,000 drones will be deployed by the government to watch Americans within the next few years. Drones are much less expensive than helicopters to purchase. They are orders of magnitude less expensive to operate. You can expect the number of drones to FAR exceed the number of helicopters very soon. 30,000 drones is just a start. So there will be many more peeping toms in the sky.
Warren October 10, 2012 at 08:41 PM
It's sad to dismiss as "paranoid" people who value the freedom and privacy that this country should protect. Authority must show significant justification for encroaching on our liberties. The step of making every move of every citizen subject to monitoring from the air is a step that must be stopped early. It starts out with a few drones here and there with some "safety" or "efficiency" justification, and grows to a police state. As James Madison said: "Since the general civilization of mankind, I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people, by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power, than by violent and sudden usurpations." Right now, an American does not look up to the sky and wonder if their every move is being monitored. The dystopian future offered by the constant surveillance of drones will make every American wonder if they are being watched- not just outside of their home but also in the "privacy" of their back yard and wherever they go day or night. Americans will wonder if they must keep the blinds drawn to prevent high resolution cameras from watching them inside. Even then they will wonder if infrared cameras are watching them move around inside their home.
Daniel October 12, 2012 at 06:46 AM
A new sport is created. Yes, shooting drones out of the sky- better than skeet.
Warren October 12, 2012 at 07:42 AM
Eventually they will shoot back in "self defense". Do not threaten the government. They have a monopoly on that.


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