The Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety is exploring a drone program to make the community safer. Officers say the technology will allow them to do more in emergency situations. Now they want to know what the community thinks. Sunnyvale police hope to buy at least one drone to use in a range of scenarios including finding suspects quicker, searching for missing people and even in hostage situations.
Residents get to weigh in on the proposal at a public meeting on May 3. “If somebody were holed up in a house and they were in a dangerous situation where we didn’t necessarily know what’s in the backyard, utilizing it to see what’s going on out there rather than putting people in harm’s way or aggravating people,” said Capt. Jeff Hunter. A drone would be equally advantageous, he said, in disaster response and firefighting efforts and help public safety officers better navigate a hazardous materials release, for example. Sunnyvale is unique in that all of its police officers are cross-trained as firefighters and EMTs. “A lot of fire agencies use (drones) at fire scenes to be able to see what’s on top of a building, to see where fire spread is occuring,” said Hunter, citing the Menlo Park Fire Protection District and Alameda County Sheriff’s Office as two local agencies that are already using drones.
But, it appears it would be about six months to a year before the program is deployed. The proposal would first have to go before the FAA for approval and only after the agency’s conditions are met, the department can purchase the equipment and train its personnel. A single consumer-grade drone carries a price tag of $7,000 to $12,000, according to Hunter. He said the department hasn’t yet identified where that money would come from.
Department of Public Safety officers will introduce the idea to the public for the first time on Thursday, May 3. That meeting takes place from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at City Hall, 456 W. Olive Ave., Sunnyvale. A second meeting will be held at some point later this year.