Alameda County Sheriff Lays Out Guidelines For Possible Use Of Domestic Drones

ALAMEDA COUNTY | The Alameda County Sheriff’s Department says strict guidelines will be used to ensure the use of drones for law enforcement purposes will not be used to violate the privacy of county residents. The sheriff’s department laid out its vision for the potential use of what it calls, small Unmanned Aircraft systems, in a five-page general order released Monday.

The two-member Alameda County Board of Supervisors’ Public Protection Committee will discuss the department’s plan to purchase the roughly four-pound drone this Thursday, 1 p.m. in board chambers.

Last year, the sheriff’s department received $1.2 million in funding from the Department of Homeland Security for a host of law enforcement goodies. However, just over $31,000 was allotted for the purchase of a single drone. The American Civil Liberties Union then revealed public documents last December showing the sheriff’s department was further along in procuring bids for the drone—each of which greatly exceeded the budgeted amount. The ACLU has found documentation in the sherrif’s department’s grant application to the California Emergency Management Association describing the drone’s purpose for surveillance and intelligence.

During a Board of Supervisor’s meeting in early December, the undersheriff for the county reiterated the department’s intends to only use the drones for emergency search and rescue events, before telling the board, the department would not purchase the drone without the public vetting the plan.

In the general order, the sheriff’s department lays out the chain of command for how an order to deploy the drone will be handled and a list of authorized “missions.” They include: responses to hazardous materials spills, search and rescue, disposal of explosive ordnances, and post-incident scene preservation and documentation.

Also, included, is a vaguely worded sub-point referring to “public safety and life preservation missions to include barricaded suspects, hostage situations, active shooters, apprehension of armed and dangerous and/or violent fleeing suspects and high-risk search warrants.”

Critics of the use of drones for domestic purposes have focused on potential privacy concerns inherent in the use of the unmanned aircrafts. The sheriff’s department says the use of images taken in instances when an alleged felony is committed, the drone “does not infringe upon the reasonable expectation of privacy.”

The department says all recorded data will be reviewed for evidentiary values. If the images do not pertain to the investigation or are irrelevant, all data will be destroyed, says the sheriff’s order.

In addition, the document lays out how county sheriffs will be trained to fly the drone along with a spotter. A Time magazine cover story last week, said privacy concerns, although valid, may not be the biggest worry over use of domestic drones in dense urban areas like Alameda County. In fact, early drones models tend to crash at alarming rates, said Time, putting residents on the ground in danger.

4 thoughts on “Alameda County Sheriff Lays Out Guidelines For Possible Use Of Domestic Drones

  1. Charlie Plummer, the current Sheriff's mentor said “Just shoot them down”. Perhaps this is something that the NRA among us could do.


  2. By MW:

    If virtually any agency, and including the AC Sheriff's Office, obtains drones, it is an almost one hundred percent sure thing that eventually it will use them very extensively, and for all sorts of things, and including infinitely beyond what they were originally approved for.

    It is sort of like that when most sales taxes were approved they were only about one percent, and certainly managed to gain ratification by using the argument that your bill on a one dollar item would only rise from exactly one dollar to $1.01, but then they kept on drifting upward so that now they considerably increase the cost of buying an item. And now that most sales taxes are already about ten percent, they will almost certainly continue drifting upward rather than going lower, or even only staying the same.

    Or think of bridge tolls, and which a few decades ago in the Bay area were approx fifteen cents but now are about five dollars on the Bay area's major bridges, and which undoubtedly will be ten or fifteen dollars within ten years or less. (According to the media, some of the bridges in the NYC area already have tolls of ten dollars or higher.)

    In other words once you give a government “just a little bit,” it won't stay satisfied with just that little bit, and no more than an alligator that managed to get its teeth on only one of your toes would stay satisfied by swallowing and eating only that one toe, but it will try to keep on swallowing and eating until it has devoured your entire leg and then finally your whole body.


  3. This is fucking ridiculous. Given the ineptitude of local law enforcement (let's not forget these folks have the equivalent of junior college degrees) why would you put these kinds of resources in their hands.

    IT BELONGS IN THE HANDS OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT and FEDERAL law enforcement agencies. Put another way, people and agencies with a much higher degree of scrutiny and oversight. I'm a lot more comfortable leaving this responsibility to agencies with a hell of a lot more ethical and moral obligations to the people of this country than the county sheriff.

    I think these local jerkoffs need to get over their own egos and start realizing where they actually are in the hierarchy. It's like a paramedic telling a doctor how to treat a patient…Sorry pal but your basic understanding of how to diagnose and treat a patient ends with triage – now you can let the folks with the training and expertise take over.

    – (retired fed)


  4. Thanks for the details. I am strongly opposed to the idea because no matter the intent or rules at the outset, once approved justification for more invasion of individual privacy will become even easier. Lets see we already have cameras on the streets of every major city, most public and private facilities, at many homes. With more than 120 cities in the greater Bay Area and cameras in every law enforcement agency our privacy is doomed. Lets not forget the Internet but we don't have to use that. I remember an old 60's song. “Nowhere to Run, No where to hide”


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