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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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 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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