Portland Police To Launch Drone Program

Photo: Ford, Brad

On April 5, 2023, the Portland City Council authorized the Portland Police Bureau to purchase and operate Small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS) commonly referred to as “Drones” in a limited pilot project.

Portland Police Bureau personnel assigned to the Specialized Resources Division testified in front of City Council on March 22, 2023, regarding the program. PPB will begin a year-long pilot project, using drones in limited areas. The sUASs are expected to cost under $80,000.

sUASs are widely used in the public sector, as well as by nearly every law enforcement agency within the Portland Metro area. The regulated use of sUASs by the PPB Investigations Branch will provide improvements in safety for both officers and community members. Additionally, the use of sUAS technology in crime / major crash scene events reduces inconvenience to the public by minimizing documentation time at a scene. PPB sUASs are exact or slightly modified versions of commercially available products and will be clearly marked with City of Portland or Portland Police logo.

During the pilot phase, PPB will use the drones in two areas: Traffic Division and the Metro Explosive Disposal Unit.

The Traffic Division will use a drone to:

* Document scenes of Major Crash Team investigations

* Document post-crash vehicle damage

* Document scenes of Major Crash Team activations

* Conduct traffic flow / pattern studies of high crash roadways

* Provide sUAS support during Search and Rescue Operations

The Metro Explosive Disposal Unit will use a drone to:

* Quickly gather information on suspicious items from a distance

* Search immediate area for secondary devices

* Confirm location of items following render safe operations

* Provide sUAS support during tactical events upon request of Critical Incident Commander (CIC)

* Provide immediate support during disasters, building collapse, etc.

“I’m pleased PPB will begin this pilot using drones on a limited basis,” said Chief Chuck Lovell. “Drones have proven to drastically reduce personnel time at crash scenes, increase safety and decrease the amount of time the public may be impacted when it comes to situations such as road closures. During this critical staffing period, PPB continues to look for innovative ways to help us do our jobs more efficiently and effectively.”

The Bureau will follow ORS 837 Unmanned Aircraft Systems as well as its Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) which prohibits the drone equipment from:

* Conducting random or indiscriminate mass surveillance activities

* Targeting a person based solely on individual characteristics, such as, but not limited to race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, disability, economic source or status, housing status, gender or sexual orientation

* Harassing, intimidating or discriminating against any individual or group

* Conducting personal business of any type

* Using it for crowd control / crowd management, unless a life safety critical incident occurs

* The sUAS shall not be weaponized (ORS 837.365). The UAS will not be used in conjunction with any type of facial recognition technology.

PPB will begin to train and license pilots and operators including training on current laws, FAA regulations and the Bureau’s SOP and identify equipment needs, tests and procedures.

The pilot project would begin in about 60 days.

Source: Portland Police Bureau

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