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Menlo Park: Proposal for city drone program raises civil liberty questions

In a pitch by leaders in three Menlo Park city departments – police, public works and community development – to explore a possible drone program in the city, each laid out potentially transformative ways that drones could help improve safety and solve problems in day-to-day working situations.

The staff members were presenting their case to the Menlo Park City Council during a study session on the topic held Dec. 10. The council expressed openness to the possibility while voicing significant concerns about unanswered civil rights questions that a citywide drone program could raise.

Brian Henry, assistant public works director, said that his department could benefit from drones by using them for facilities inspections, especially on roofs. For instance, he explained, when employees inspect and maintain solar panels, roof tiles can crack under their weight.

Drones could also be used to inspect confined spaces where people don't fit; to check in on parks to ensure that contractors complete assigned work; to inspect tree canopies to monitor their health; or to inspect under bridges.

In general, getting city workers and contractors off of ladders and lifts, he noted, would improve safety.

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Drones could benefit the community development department in performing similar tasks, said Chuck Andrews, assistant community development director in the building division. He added that his department could use drones to speed up inspections and improve safety during inspections of potentially unsafe structures – for example, at a home damaged by a fallen tree when it's not clear how structurally sound the dwelling is.

It could also enable staff to do some inspections without relying on contractors' equipment as it currently does when doing inspections at construction sites.

As for the police department, Sgt. Aaron Dixon emphasized that the drones are, essentially, a "camera on a stick" and can offer significant enhancements to officers seeking critical information about their surroundings during crime and emergency situations.

Aerial cameras on a drone can capture the scene of a traffic accident far faster than officers standing on the ground with cameras, who often measure distances by hand with tape measures, he explained. The details at the scene of a collision that would typically shut down a roadway for three hours while officers collect data could be captured in about a half-hour with a drone, he said.

Drones can also be equipped with heat-seeking equipment, which has been used for finding missing people. Dixon cited a February incident in which Fremont police used drone technology to find a deaf teenager who had run away from school and was found hiding in the bushes in the dark.

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Drone technology can also help police figure out how to better position themselves for safety if an armed person is in hiding, he added.

The video files recorded by drones would be subject to public record requests, though Dixon confirmed that the department would have the tools to redact records in order not to reveal footage about minors or other people incidentally captured when a drone is used, he said.

The Menlo Park Fire Protection District already has a drone program, as do the nearby cities of Mountain View and Fremont. Dixon said that the program would comply with best practices recommended by the ACLU.

Privacy and other concerns

But with airborne cameras and video recording equipment, personal privacy can easily be violated, especially because the higher a drone goes, the more information it can capture. What's to prevent footage of people in their backyard or other private spaces from winding up in a police video record somewhere? That's an uneasy question some members of the public and council members said they want answered.

Several attendees of the discussion raised further concerns with the proposal. Pam Jones noted that cities with drone programs are typically far larger than Menlo Park and pushed for more public outreach, as well as public notification when drones are used.

Adina Levin, a member of the city's Complete Streets Commission, said she had "significant civil liberty concerns," such as what might happen if a resident calls the police about a "suspicious person" who is in fact just an African American walking down the street and a drone becomes a surveillance tool. She suggested that experts be brought in to make sure that fair policies are in place to protect privacy.

Smitha Gundavajhala, program coordinator at the Youth Leadership Institute in San Mateo, urged the council to support strong penalties in cases of abuse to deter improper invasions of privacy or civil liberty violations with the use of drones.

"With great power comes great responsibility," she said.

Generally, council members were open to the idea of some level of drone use in the city, though these positions varied. Councilwoman Betsy Nash and Vice Mayor Cecilia Taylor said they were not supportive of using drones for policing, but did support drones' use for public works and community development purposes.

"For me, the use cases are great. I just want to have discussion about what the guard rails are," said Mayor Ray Mueller, who asked that city staff come back with a drone program expert and clearer policies on acceptable uses of the drones and relevant software applications, as well as more information about how many human-hours of work that drone use could save.

Councilman Drew Combs added that he was "supportive of moving to the next step." And Councilwoman Catherine Carlton said she'd like to see more details about privacy and best practices, but noted, "I think we should be able to work out the details."

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Menlo Park: Proposal for city drone program raises civil liberty questions

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Mon, Dec 16, 2019, 4:10 pm

In a pitch by leaders in three Menlo Park city departments – police, public works and community development – to explore a possible drone program in the city, each laid out potentially transformative ways that drones could help improve safety and solve problems in day-to-day working situations.

The staff members were presenting their case to the Menlo Park City Council during a study session on the topic held Dec. 10. The council expressed openness to the possibility while voicing significant concerns about unanswered civil rights questions that a citywide drone program could raise.

Brian Henry, assistant public works director, said that his department could benefit from drones by using them for facilities inspections, especially on roofs. For instance, he explained, when employees inspect and maintain solar panels, roof tiles can crack under their weight.

Drones could also be used to inspect confined spaces where people don't fit; to check in on parks to ensure that contractors complete assigned work; to inspect tree canopies to monitor their health; or to inspect under bridges.

In general, getting city workers and contractors off of ladders and lifts, he noted, would improve safety.

Drones could benefit the community development department in performing similar tasks, said Chuck Andrews, assistant community development director in the building division. He added that his department could use drones to speed up inspections and improve safety during inspections of potentially unsafe structures – for example, at a home damaged by a fallen tree when it's not clear how structurally sound the dwelling is.

It could also enable staff to do some inspections without relying on contractors' equipment as it currently does when doing inspections at construction sites.

As for the police department, Sgt. Aaron Dixon emphasized that the drones are, essentially, a "camera on a stick" and can offer significant enhancements to officers seeking critical information about their surroundings during crime and emergency situations.

Aerial cameras on a drone can capture the scene of a traffic accident far faster than officers standing on the ground with cameras, who often measure distances by hand with tape measures, he explained. The details at the scene of a collision that would typically shut down a roadway for three hours while officers collect data could be captured in about a half-hour with a drone, he said.

Drones can also be equipped with heat-seeking equipment, which has been used for finding missing people. Dixon cited a February incident in which Fremont police used drone technology to find a deaf teenager who had run away from school and was found hiding in the bushes in the dark.

Drone technology can also help police figure out how to better position themselves for safety if an armed person is in hiding, he added.

The video files recorded by drones would be subject to public record requests, though Dixon confirmed that the department would have the tools to redact records in order not to reveal footage about minors or other people incidentally captured when a drone is used, he said.

The Menlo Park Fire Protection District already has a drone program, as do the nearby cities of Mountain View and Fremont. Dixon said that the program would comply with best practices recommended by the ACLU.

Privacy and other concerns

But with airborne cameras and video recording equipment, personal privacy can easily be violated, especially because the higher a drone goes, the more information it can capture. What's to prevent footage of people in their backyard or other private spaces from winding up in a police video record somewhere? That's an uneasy question some members of the public and council members said they want answered.

Several attendees of the discussion raised further concerns with the proposal. Pam Jones noted that cities with drone programs are typically far larger than Menlo Park and pushed for more public outreach, as well as public notification when drones are used.

Adina Levin, a member of the city's Complete Streets Commission, said she had "significant civil liberty concerns," such as what might happen if a resident calls the police about a "suspicious person" who is in fact just an African American walking down the street and a drone becomes a surveillance tool. She suggested that experts be brought in to make sure that fair policies are in place to protect privacy.

Smitha Gundavajhala, program coordinator at the Youth Leadership Institute in San Mateo, urged the council to support strong penalties in cases of abuse to deter improper invasions of privacy or civil liberty violations with the use of drones.

"With great power comes great responsibility," she said.

Generally, council members were open to the idea of some level of drone use in the city, though these positions varied. Councilwoman Betsy Nash and Vice Mayor Cecilia Taylor said they were not supportive of using drones for policing, but did support drones' use for public works and community development purposes.

"For me, the use cases are great. I just want to have discussion about what the guard rails are," said Mayor Ray Mueller, who asked that city staff come back with a drone program expert and clearer policies on acceptable uses of the drones and relevant software applications, as well as more information about how many human-hours of work that drone use could save.

Councilman Drew Combs added that he was "supportive of moving to the next step." And Councilwoman Catherine Carlton said she'd like to see more details about privacy and best practices, but noted, "I think we should be able to work out the details."

Comments

John
Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on Dec 16, 2019 at 6:35 pm
John, Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on Dec 16, 2019 at 6:35 pm
3 people like this

First it was the illegal video cameras on ECR Traffic lights. Now it’s the drones.

What’s up with MP’s obsession with spying on citizens in the name of “safety”?


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 16, 2019 at 7:54 pm
Peter Carpenter, Atherton: Lindenwood
Registered user
on Dec 16, 2019 at 7:54 pm
4 people like this

Here is a drone policy that was developed with significant community input = learn from it.

Policy
342
Menlo Park Fire Protection District
Menlo Park FPD Fire Policy Manual
Copyright Lexipol, LLC 2019/05/15, All Rights Reserved.
Published with permission by Menlo Park Fire Protection
District
Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) - 119
Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)
342.1 PURPOSE AND SCOPE
The purpose of this policy is to establish safe, efficient and lawful operation of the Menlo Park Fire
Protection District (MPFPD) Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS).
342.1.1 DEFINITIONS
(a) (a) Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS): Consists of an unmanned aircraft weighing
less than 55 lbs., the command system, a secure control link, camera and other
related safety support equipment, including ground control base stations and
specialty vehicles designed to support unmanned flight operations.
(a) (b) Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV): Refers more specifically to the unmanned
aerial vehicle itself. MPFPD has multiple UAV assets available within its fleet.
(a) (c) UAS Flight Crewmember: A Pilot in Command, Visual Observer, or other
persons assigned UAS duties for the purpose of flight.
(a) (d) Certificate of Authorization (COA): Issued by the FAA and grants permission
to fly within specific boundaries and parameters.
(a) (e) Pilot-in-Command (PIC): Person who has final authority and responsibility for
the operation and safety of flight, has been designated as the PIC before or
during the flight, and holds the appropriate category, class and type rating, if
applicable, for the conduct of the flight. The PIC is solely responsible for the input
of commands/piloting during flight operations. Pilots are authorized to evaluate
and accept or decline any mission or portion thereof due to safety concerns.
(a) (f) Visual Observer (VO): The Visual Observer is responsible for the visual
observation of the UAS while in-flight. The VO shall maintain a visual observation
of the UAS while in-flight and alert the Unmanned Aircraft System Pilot of
any conditions (obstructions, terrain, structures, air traffic, weather, etc.) which
may affect the safety of flight. The VO is responsible for all on scene radio
communications between the Incident Commander or designee and the Pilotin-
Command, in addition to all aviation related communications required by
the FAA. The Observer shall stay in close proximity to the Unmanned Aircraft
System Pilot to instantly relay information. The Observer shall be certified in the
operation of the UAS by successful completion of an approved training course.
The Observer must meet requirements established by the FAA.
Menlo Park Fire Protection District
Menlo Park FPD Fire Policy Manual
Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)
Copyright Lexipol, LLC 2019/05/15, All Rights Reserved.
Published with permission by Menlo Park Fire Protection
District
Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) - 120
(a) (g) Notice to Airman (NOTAM): Time critical aeronautical information which is
provided to air traffic control towers within a (5) five mile radius of UAS flight
and is of either a temporary nature or not sufficiently known in advance to
permit publication on aeronautical charts or in other operational publications and
receives immediate dissemination via the National NOTAM System.
(a) (h) Visual Line of Sight (VLOS): Visual contact between PIC or VO and a UAS
sufficient to maintain safe operational control of the aircraft, known location, and
be able to scan the airspace in which it is operating to see and avoid other aircraft
or objects aloft or on the ground.
342.2 POLICY
It is the MPFPD’s policy that MPFPD personnel trained in the use of the UAS will use them to
protect the lives and property of citizens and first responders in full compliance with all applicable
laws and regulations, including but not limited to State and Federal Constitution and Federal
Aviation Authority (FAA) regulations.
The use of a UAS can support first responders in emergency situations by providing an aerial
perspective which will enable first responders to detect dangers that could not otherwise be seen
and support incident commanders in tactical decision applications. The UAS can also be utilized
for approved training & evaluation missions, pre-emergency planning, public education, disaster
pre-planning, and disaster deployments.
342.3 AUTHORITY
MPFPD has obtained a Certificate of Authorization (COA) from the FAA in order to conduct
operational, training and evaluation missions, pre-fire planning, pre-emergency planning, public
education, disaster pre-planning and disaster deployments.
342.4 PROCEDURE
Requests for UAS deployments will be made through the on duty MPFPD Battalion Chief directly
or via San Mateo County Dispatch. Approval for requests will be determined by on the duty
MPFPD Battalion Chief by initiating a UAS Call Out procedure. If the request comes directly to
MPFPD Battalion Chief, the information will be gathered and communicated to San Mateo County
Communications Dispatch @ 650.363.4963
Menlo Park Fire Protection District
Menlo Park FPD Fire Policy Manual
Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)
Copyright Lexipol, LLC 2019/05/15, All Rights Reserved.
Published with permission by Menlo Park Fire Protection
District
Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) - 121
UAS Call Out procedure: The Battalion Chief will gather the information pertaining to
the request and contact the Pilot in Command and notify him/her of the mission with all
pertinent information available. The Pilot in Command will determine if the UAS can be
deployed safely and practically and either accepts or declines the mission. The on duty
Battalion Chief will make all notifications of mission acceptance or declination directly to
the requesting party or through San Mateo County Dispatch.
342.4.1 FLIGHT OPERATIONS
(a) All emergency response missions shall be approved by the on duty Battalion chief
and/or the Incident Commander.
(b) A UAS shall only be operated by personnel, both pilots and crew members, who have
been trained and qualified in the operation of the system. MPFPD personnel with UAS
responsibilities, including chief officers, shall be provided training in the policies and
procedures governing UAS use.
(c) Pilot in Command (PIC) reports to the Incident Commander, Division / Group
Supervisor or designee as determined by the Incident Commander. The PIC will
accept or decline the mission and has final authority and responsibility for the operation
and safety of flight. The PIC will determine the need of a Visual Observer and
communicate that information to the IC any time before or during the mission. MPFPD
UAS Pilots are identified on the PLATOON ROSTER.
(d) Visual Observer if assigned, reports to the Pilot in Command and is responsible for
radio communications between the PIC and the Incident Commander, Division / Group
Supervisor or designee as determined by the Incident Commander, when face-to-face
communication is not possible.
(e) Communications between UAS operations and Incident Command is best suited
for face-to-face method unless a Visual Observer is assigned. Pilots in Command of
a UAV do not have the ability to operate a communications device (portable radio,
cellular phone, etc.) unless true hands-free technology is being utilized.
(f) Identification: The Pilot in Command, Visual Observer, or other persons assigned
UAS duties for the purpose of flight will be identified by high visibility clothing with the
appropriate UAS position identifier.
Menlo Park Fire Protection District
Menlo Park FPD Fire Policy Manual
Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)
Copyright Lexipol, LLC 2019/05/15, All Rights Reserved.
Published with permission by Menlo Park Fire Protection
District
Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) - 122
(g) When the UAS is being flown, Unmanned Aircraft System Pilots shall take steps to
ensure the camera is focused only on the areas necessary to the mission.
(h) All flights will remain in FCC compliant, GPS reception mode and comply with FAA
flight restrictions near designated Class A & B airports and municipal airports.
(i) Airport towers within 5 miles of flight will be notified by the PIC, VO or designee. All
pertinent information regarding the operation will be provided to the tower. A NOTAM
(Notice to Airmen) will be filed electronically or by telephone as required by the FAA
COA. At all times the flight will comply with the criteria provided in the FAA COA.
(j) The administration, safety policy, training requirements, general operating procedures
and pre/post flight actions are contained within the MPFPD UAS Operations Manual.
(k) All flights shall be documented on the appropriate mission log form including flight
time. The flight objective, type of mission and name of the supervisor approving the
operation shall be documented.
(l) The UAS shall not be equipped with weapons.
342.4.2 MISSION USE CASES
The authorized missions for the MPFPD UAS may include but are not limited to:
1. In response to specific requests from local, state or federal fire authorities for fire
response and prevention.
2. In response to any transportation type emergencies as defined in Title 49 of the Code
of Federal Regulations.
3. Search and Rescue (SAR) missions as defined in California Government Code Section
26614.
4. Structural collapse and building evaluations for rescue, safety and occupancy.
5. In response to hazardous materials spills or hazardous materials investigations.
6. Disaster response and recovery to include natural or human caused disasters including
a full overview of a disaster area for post incident analysis and documentation.
7. Public Education development, training videos & documentation.
Menlo Park Fire Protection District
Menlo Park FPD Fire Policy Manual
Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)
Copyright Lexipol, LLC 2019/05/15, All Rights Reserved.
Published with permission by Menlo Park Fire Protection
District
Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) - 123
8. Pilot training missions which will be scheduled and directed by the UAV program
coordinator under authority of the Training Chief or his/her designee.
9. Explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) missions.
10. Any missions that deploy fire based tactical paramedics for on scene evaluation and
monitoring.
11. Public safety and life preservation missions to include but not limited to hostage
situations, active shooters, threats for use of incendiary or explosive devices.
12. Post fire or incident investigation to assist with cause, origin and documentation.
13. Providing close air support in the form of real time tactical information and personnel
accountability on a wide range of emergency scenes.
342.5 DATA RETENTION AND PROCESSING
Upon completion of each UAS mission the recorded data shall be reviewed and evaluated. All
retained data shall be maintained or destroyed pursuant to the MPFPD records retention policies
and in compliance with applicable laws and regulations.
342.6 PROTECTION RIGHTS AND PRIVACY CONCERNS
Unmanned Aircraft System Pilots and Observers will consider the protection of individual civil
rights and the reasonable expectation of privacy as a key component of any decision made to
deploy the UAS. Each Unmanned Aircraft System Pilot and Observer shall ensure that operations
of the UAS are consistent with Fire District, state, and federal law. All video and audio obtained
from an active incident will be retained in accordance to the Fire District’s data retention policy.


Dave W
Menlo Park: other
on Dec 18, 2019 at 9:02 am
Dave W, Menlo Park: other
on Dec 18, 2019 at 9:02 am
Like this comment

I agree that the city should have some kind of drone program for police and fire departments, with strict rules on when they can be used. I understand the concerns over privacy. But there are times when drones can be used to prevent injury or death. Two examples: [1] I suggested to the (previous) police captain years ago that they should consider drones at a town hall meeting after a series of robberies. We had two armed robbers jumping over fences, from backyard to backyard trying to escape arrest. If they had a drone it would have taken the guess work out of where the robbers were and they could have been caught quickly. Instead it was a dangerous man hunt that put the lives of the police officers in danger, and the lives of the local community members in danger. What if those robbers had taken a hostage? I'd gladly give up some privacy if it ensured the safety of our community and our officers in this kind of life or death situation. [2] We all saw the devastating loss in the Paradise fires. Lives were lost and a community was destroyed. Imagine a fire breaking out in the Lindenwood or Flood Park neighborhoods. With limited roads in/out of those communities there is potential to trap members of the community in a wind blown fire. If the fire and police forces had drones they could quickly get an aerial view of the fire and immediately take action to control the fire and ensure the safety of members of the community. Drones could save lives.

In regards to utilities using drones. You should look at technologies used by people like Tesla Solar for roof inspections. They basically use a camera on a giant extending stick. You don't necessarily need drones for roof inspections. And there are times when a camera on a giant stick can do the trick just fine.


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 18, 2019 at 10:31 am
Peter Carpenter, Atherton: Lindenwood
Registered user
on Dec 18, 2019 at 10:31 am
2 people like this

" If the fire and police forces had drones they could quickly get an aerial view of the fire and immediately take action to control the fire and ensure the safety of members of the community. Drones could save lives."

MPFPD has the FIRST FAA certified fire department drone capability and they have been using drones for years with great success.


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