Depending on how the drone debut goes on Saturday, officials may consider adopting a permanent drone program to assist Mountain View police in everything from crisis situations and surveying crime scenes to patrolling large-scale events, including making Shoreline's concert venue safer.
"Our hope is that, should the drones prove to be an effective way to help us more quickly respond to public safety calls, traffic problems and medical issues, we may be able to move forward with creating a program here at MVPD that will serve the community in the same capacity," according to a statement released by the department last week.
Aptonomy markets the drones, which weigh about 30 pounds and have a 5-foot wingspan, as an effective way to monitor large areas in a short amount of time and an alternative to putting first responders in harm's way. The devices are equipped with software that allows the drones to fly autonomously, avoid obstacles and detect "anomalies" without human interaction, and can spot problems like a vehicle that isn't in the right place or a suspicious person breaking through a fence, Aptonomy co-founder John Daniels told the Voice.
"These are some of the most advanced, industrial-grade type drones for security in the entire world," Daniels said.
Since the company was founded in 2014, Aptonomy has used its drones to help out law enforcement agencies throughout the country, and recently worked with the city of Louisville, Kentucky on a public safety program where the company's security drones would automatically respond to the sound of gunfire.
"It's much quicker, and you don't get a human involved," Daniels said.
The hope is that the drones will be able to spot potential criminal activity around Shoreline including auto burglaries, fights and drug deals, and could provide officers with "real-time traffic flow information," according to the department's press release. Daniels said the drones could prove to be pretty useful at concerts, where a large number of people leave their vehicles and possessions unattended.
During the 2017 Audiotistic concert at Shoreline, which took place on July 15 and 16, six people were arrested on drug sale-related charges and one person was arrested for public intoxication, according to the police department's crime blotter. Another concert attendee was cited for possession, and there was a report of a battery and two reports of drug sales.
Four Aptonomy employees are planning to come to Mountain View during the Saturday concert to operate the drones, which will be flown once an hour for 20- to 30-minute intervals. Police spokeswoman Katie Nelson said the company is volunteering its time and equipment, and it won't cost the department any money, and stressed that the usage of drones this weekend is a one-time demo.
"We are only in the exploration phase of potentially implementing a drone program and are looking to make the best decision possible for our community," Nelson told the Voice. "Nothing has been finalized."
If police officials like what they see this weekend and decide to move forward with a permanent drone program, they wouldn't be the first. Law enforcement agencies in both Alameda and Contra Costa counties have adopted drone programs, and the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety is exploring the idea of buying drones to assist its police officers, Nelson said.
Drones have a pretty strong track record in helping police search for and rescue missing people and track down shooting suspects, Nelson said. They can also be used for thermal imaging during fires, which came in handy when fire crews sought to put out the deadly 2016 Ghost Ship fire in Oakland.
The drones at this weekend's concert will stick to rules and regulations set by the Federal Aviation Administration, and will not fly directly over crowds, homes or nearby businesses, instead sticking to a circular pattern along the perimeter of the venue. None of the Mountain View police personnel assigned to the Saturday concert are certified to operate drones, Nelson said, so it will be up to Aptonomy employees to manage the flights.
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