The Clovis Police Department is getting new, high tech equipment in the form of an unmanned drone.
The department is about to begin a 90-day pilot program that will deploy a “first responder drone” to respond to emergency calls. The program is modeled after a similar program currently implemented by the City of Chula Vista, Calif. Clovis will be only one of three cities in the nation to have implemented the program.
At an April 20 city council meeting, Clovis Police Lt. Jim Munro presented the drone program to the city council. He said Chula Vista’s drone program has responded to more than 2,000 emergency calls, assisted in more than 270 arrests and allowed the police to avoid dispatching officers on 488 calls, enabling them to respond to other emergencies. He said the drone beats officers to the scene about 50% of the time.
“The drone arrives ahead of the officers and is able to give them real time information from the air,” Munro said. “Really this is no different from the helicopter program … only it costs a lot less and we can cover more ground here in Clovis.”
Munro said the department hopes the program will also decrease the need for officers to make face-to-face contact in certain situations, which would decrease the likelihood of an officer exposing themselves to COVID-19.
Police Chief Curt Fleming said the drone program would improve the department’s response times, even as police staff is stretched thin.
City Manager Luke Serpa said earlier this month that the city plans to freeze vacancies in the police department because of financial woes brought on by the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
“Staffing levels were at .85 per capita per thousand, which I’ll argue with you is the lowest staffing in the Central Valley,” Fleming said at the city council meeting. “So how do we fix it? We look towards new technology.”
Clovis police have used drones in the past. The department has operated a Federal Aviation Administration-Approved drone patrol program since 2018.
The drone used in the 90-day program will be launched from a city building rooftop to immediately respond to emergency calls. Munro said the drone can stay in the air for about 30 minutes and has a camera that is capable of zooming in 30 times. It will fly between 120 feet and 380 feet in the air.
Munro said the drone will only be used reactively, meaning it will respond to emergency calls and will not be used to conduct “proactive surveillance.”
He said the drones used for the program typically cost between $25,000 and $30,000. The drone the department is currently using was loaned, so the city would have to pay for another one if it plans on continuing the program.
After the 90-day program is over, the police chief will analyze data collected over the training period to determine if the program should be extended.