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Drone use debated, approved by council
An example of a police drone.

After considerable debate, the Ceres City Council on Monday cleared the path for members of the police department to become trained and authorized to use drones.

The city plans to buy three drones with $28,000 in Measure H sales tax revenues and some General Fund monies. Besides police surveillance use, City Manager Toby Wells offered that drones could be helpful for city staff to use in relation to inspect city buildings and facilities, map areas for street projects, map properties for development,  check on code enforcement violations and capture video or stills for economic development purposes. Councilwoman Linda Ryno said she was particularly concerned about drones potentially being used for inspection of private properties relating to any building permit process.

“To me that would seem like an invasion of someone’s privacy if you go in to apply for a building permit and all of a sudden you’ve got a drone flying over,” said Ryno.

Wells said the primary use would be for police use but he listed other “potential uses.” Ryno said she was concerned about police time being used to fly a drone for other city purposes and said “I’m not comfortable with that at all.”

Training will be offered so that authorized users don’t violate ever-changing rules from the FAA that govern drone use.

The resolution before the council was intended to allow the city to be covered in liability from the city’s insurance pool, the Central San Joaquin Valley Risk Management Authority.

Ceres Police Chief Brent Smith said various sergeants will be trained to use the drones which could be helpful in situations involving officer safety, apprehending suspects and locating victims in emergencies.

Police drones can be much more expensive than drones used by the public. They include features like optical, zoom, and/or thermal cameras. Drone and camera technology allows officials to have a better vantage point during times of chaotic situations where deploying ground personnel is too risky, such as active shooters. Aerial vantage points also allow post-accident scenes or crime scenes to be more fully evaluated and reconstructed to help understand the timeline of events for each incident. The reliance only on ground assets to respond to emergency events increases threats to the safety of the community and emergency personnel and decreases the efficiency and effectiveness of the emergency response. In response to active shooters, IEDs, or armed hostage situations the sUAS can observe threats from a safe vantage point allowing law enforcement on the scene to operate with greater safety. 

Councilman Bret Durossette said he was in favor of getting the drone program up and running and said by picking “many holes” in the funding source the council was doing a “great disservice for our police.”

The council voted unanimously to support the resolution.