Portland Police Post Drone Usage

Photo: Ford, Brad

The Portland Police Bureau’s year-long pilot program for small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUASs or drones) is continuing, and PPB is announcing the creation of a public dashboard on usage by police. SUASs have been deployed 37 times so far between June 9, 2023 and September 30, 2023.

The dashboard is available here: https://www.portland.gov/police/open-data/uascalls

The dashboard includes an interactive data visualization designed for ease of use and maximum possible transparency. The interactivity allows users to filter the information based on the questions they are hoping to answer. For example, users can filter by flight types. The most common use so far is exigent circumstances (i.e. the Metro Explosive Disposal Unit gathering information from a safe distance, searching immediate area for secondary explosive devices, confirming location of items, providing support to Critical Incident Commanders and immediate support during disasters such as building collapses). Other uses permitted during the pilot phase are the execution of search warrants, for sUAS training, and Traffic Division Major Crash Team scene documentation.

In addition to the interactive map, source data can be downloaded directly from the dashboard. Available data includes date and time of call, neighborhood and block address, call type and priority, and whether a single or multiple drones were deployed. The dashboard also details the circumstance or unit in which the sUAS was used. The dashboard is updated on the 15th of each month, so next week it will add October’s statistics.

On April 5, 2023, the Portland City Council authorized the Portland Police Bureau to purchase and operate sUASs in a limited pilot project. sUASs are widely used in the public sector, as well as by nearly every law enforcement agency within the Portland Metropolitan 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 uses a drone to:

* Document scenes of Major Crash Team investigations

* Document post-crash vehicle damage

* Document scenes of Major Crash Team activations

* Provide sUAS support during Search and Rescue Operations

The Metro Explosive Disposal Unit uses 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.

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 has trained and licensed pilots and operators including training on current laws, FAA regulations and the Bureau’s SOP and identify equipment needs, tests and procedures.

Portland Police Bureau personnel assigned to the Specialized Resources Division testified in front of City Council on March 22, 2023, regarding the program. A video of that presentation, as well as a complete summary of the pilot program, the Police Bureau policy, and a contact e-mail to provide feedback on the program, see our information page here:


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