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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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Rob Raistlin October 09, 2012 at 01:46 PM
can you believe this crap?? it's bad enough they scan license plates and basically search the vehicle without a warrant. now the freakn sheriff jokers want to watch anyone anywhere anytime just *just in case*!!! so much for having civil liberties. so much for privacy. so much for innocent til proven guilty. this goes to show i'm right about how the sheriff jokers view the world. they think like this its them against us. there are no innocent civilians. to them its just a matter of time before we all *screw up* in some way. the sheriffs attitude is guilty until we cant prove you're guilty but we'll get you for something there is not enough crime here to come close to justify this BS!!!!
Warren October 09, 2012 at 04:13 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 you spend and on what, then they could solve a LOT more crimes. Is that the world we want to live in?
Anneke9 October 09, 2012 at 04:15 PM
This is probably one of the first times that I've agreed with the ACLU on anything. This is ridiculous. Welcome to the brave new world if Alameda gets it's drone cam.
Kyle Ralston October 09, 2012 at 04:45 PM
And while much of this is being made more "palatable" by saying it's for our safety, don't neglect the other side of this "Pandora's Box". Did you pick up on the FAA being required to create rules to permit the deployment of such devices . . . "NOT JUST FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT, BUT FOR ANY BUSINESS THAT WANTS EYES IN THE SKIES"? And for those businesses wanting to push the envelope, how well would these laws be enforced? After all, we still see talking on cell phones while driving, unsafe speeding and driving habits, and other supposedly illegal actions that aren't enforced. So, does the County Sheriff believe us to be living in Afghanistan that we should be allowed to be monitored as such?
Wayne October 09, 2012 at 04:47 PM
Big Brother - Step 1
Rob Raistlin October 09, 2012 at 06:17 PM
yes i did notice businesses can do this too. wtf is this country going to? anyone with a business licencse and the money to piss away can watch whoever they want? sounds like to be it'll be open season on everyone's privacy. as in privacy will only be a thing we'll read about in history books. who knows who will be watching what and for what *reason*. i say when that happens, it'll be open season on the drones.
Classic Bob October 09, 2012 at 06:31 PM
Greetings- This is some very sad news indeed. I would much rather keep the crime levels than to lose any privacy or civil rights to either unnamed businesses or sheriffs. What qualifications does a "business" need to acquire using a drone and what would be their "reason" to need to use these tools? This is very very disturbing.
Gary Allsebrook October 09, 2012 at 06:36 PM
There already are eyes in the sky. Just look at Google earth, the resolution just keeps getting better all the time. There are helicoptors flying overhead constantly. All of us are on video every day already so the George Orwell 1984 thing is a little too late. As unsavory as it may seem, if it would improve public safety and cut the taxpayer load for the sheriffs dept. then why not?
Gary Allsebrook October 09, 2012 at 06:38 PM
Aerial land surveys have been done for years, mainly with fixed wing aircraft.
Rob Raistlin October 09, 2012 at 07:06 PM
no!! no way!! *for public safefty* i'm not falling for that line of thinking. its crap. no other way to describe it. yeah there are planes and helicopters already over head but to simply bend over and say give me more, no. never. this is different. anyone who has a clue knows this. especially the part of *business* can do this too.
Terry Mar October 09, 2012 at 08:11 PM
I would like to respond in a slightly different fashion. Sheriff Ahern and the department are only trying to do a better job protecting the public from perpetrators of crime and using flying drones might be a very cost effective way for the department to do this. But, my question would be, do the ends justify the means? Will subjecting the vast majority of law abiding citizens to unwarranted "surveillance" drive the crime rate down? For example in today's high tech world there are video cameras everywhere, snapping photos and capturing videos of with and or without our knowledge. Has the overall crime rate gone down due to this type of surveillance, have more criminals been caught, prosecuted and convicted? The Sheriff is suggesting that the drones will help them "catch" criminals and or identify "potential" criminal activity. Assuming the department might be able reassign potentially 3 sheriffs from helicopter duty back to the streets, eliminating the helicopter might be a good idea. I guess having 3 more sheriffs on the streets of unincorporated parts of Alameda county would help out, but again the question would be, is it worth the cost of unwarranted surveillance of law abiding citizens? Unfortunately our government is not giving out grants to hire more sheriffs, which I would strongly support. I don't support unwarranted surveillance
Classic Bob October 09, 2012 at 09:34 PM
Greetings Terry- Well said. I would also prefer to have additional deputies than unwarranted surveillance.
Jonathan Draper October 09, 2012 at 09:55 PM
Totalitarianism comes in small steps, not all at once. You're saying it's inevitable, so why oppose this little step??? By the way, Google Earth is not the real time spying of which these Drones are capable. I say "No way!" to the sheriff.
Piper McKnight October 09, 2012 at 10:06 PM
Well, the Sheriff, Under-Sheriff, and Assistant Sheriff of Alameda County all make over $200,000/year plus benefits (including a fully vested pension they can begin collecting at 50). Deputies make about $140,000/year plus benefits. They can have outrageous salaries, brand new D.A.R.E. cars, a freakin' tank, and surveillance drones, but they can't find it in their budget to fully fund Animal Control Services? They abandoned an amazing, underutilized piece of property above the fancy new Juvenile Hall (which has nearly $2 million worth of art on display so maybe the taxpayers should go enjoy?) and left hundreds of animals in West County without a local "shelter." Now, a dog found in San Lorenzo must be taken all the way to Dublin to the East County Shelter. And would San Lorenzo residents think to look in Dublin for their dog? No. Combined with San Leandro's contracting their animal control duties to Tri-Cities (Fremont), this creates a huge grey area where animals are not being served. I'm not impressed with how the Sheriff spends his money. But drones sound right up his alley. Anything thats a waste of money and potentially infringes upon our rights seems to attract him like flies on s*&*@#!
Mike Feagan October 10, 2012 at 02:34 AM
This is ridiculous. What is next? People our rights are going out the window.I don't buy into this way of thinking by law enforcement. But think who is really behind all of this? Big Brother who else. America land of the free is BS. Hang on people it is only the beginning.The day is coming privacy is something of the past. How sad in America ?
Tom Abate (Editor) October 19, 2012 at 01:22 AM
The CoCo Times has a story on the drones that adds some facts to the discussion: http://www.contracostatimes.com/bay-area-news/ci_21803888/alameda-county-sheriff-plans-buy-surveillance-drone
Cindy Capote February 17, 2013 at 10:16 AM
To Terrys comment, Im sorry Terry but if you really believe thats what they want these for I think your in for a huge wake up call. Then why did this sherriff hide them buried deep in the middle of his budget only coming to light because he got caught now he's groundbreaking? This is illegal ! People fought long & hard, & died for these rights I dont get it, There is plenty of technology out there do we really need the night skies filled with these creepy very quiet flying spies listening to you or I having private moments in our bedrooms, taking pictures? how about an argument with our teenagers will they then get arrested? I dont need to be spied on, PERIOD- I have earned the right not to be. Im sorry but it just might not be who you think it is up there, look at last week- & then opening fire on the wrong truck before they even pulled them over? Wow. It goes down as oops sorry made a little mistake...if that was you or I? Did they say oops? We need to stop giving the police so much power. This ideas absurd. No supplies for kids in school or food to feed the hungry some new toys for the sherriffs oh sure. Absolutely insane.If ID theft is bad now, just wait till these bad boys are flying all over by god knows who.


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