Chula Vista’s Police Department Has Become a Drone Industry Pioneer

Most drone innovation is associated with private businesses, especially small start-ups.  But in some cases a local government agency takes the lead.  Take the case of the Chula Vista (California) Police Department (CVPD).  As far back as 2015, the CVPD partnered with the federal government to develop a drone program that could bolster the emergency response capabilities of its law enforcement officers, firefighters and EMTs.  In 2018, working in partnership with the technology firm Cape Aerial Telepresence (CAPE), CVPD began deploying drones from the rooftop of police department headquarters in response to 911 calls. By 2021, CVPD was patching all of its first-responders into 911 police calls in real time, becoming the first law enforcement department in the country to do so.

Once the 911 call is received, the CVPD’s automated response system immediately dispatches a drone to the scene to gather video surveillance on the incident which is live-streamed to all of its first responders on their cell phones. CVPD officers and EMTs size up the information received and deploy to the scene with the appropriate response team in place.

Since 2019, CVPD has continued to upgrade its Drone First Responder (DFR) program – one of only 10 in the country to receive special federal funding – by adding a Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) capability granted under a waiver from the FAA.  CVPD drones expanded their service area from a 1-mile flight radius to 3 miles, vastly increasing CVPD’s response capabilities. In addition, funding from the Chula Vista Police Foundation and several other private foundations allowed the CVPD to purchase two new DJI Matrice 210 V2 Drones and then, in September 2020, seven new DJI Matrice M-300 Drones. CVOD also expanded the number of its launch sites, deploying drones to various CVPD locations throughout the city.

Last year, CVPD pioneered yet again, becoming the nation’s first police department to be granted FAA authority to launch its drones from anywhere in the city.  CVPD also created new partnerships with a local college and hotel in the eastern parts of the city which gave it two additional launch sites. And finally, CVPD was able to obtain a two-to-one waiver, which meant it could deploy two drones simultaneously from each of its launch sites.  At this point, CVPD has the entire city covered.  The next step?  Increasing the functions of DFR drones beyond video surveillance to include thermal imaging (especially at night), aerial medical supply delivery and eventually, perhaps, on-board hospital ambulance services.

It’s important to note that Chula Vista residents have applauded and supported the CVPD’s drone initiatives from the very start.  That’s because the department has included multiple stakeholders in the discussion of its DRF program every step of the way.  It took three years of discussion, including numerous public forums, before CVPD decided to test its DFR program in 2018, and feedback ever since has shaped its design.  But, of course, it’s the success of the program in the field – in sharply reducing response times, and saving lives – and CVPD’s reliance in large part on-public local sources of funding – thereby protecting the city’s already tight budget – that has allowed it garner such widespread public support.

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