Sky’s the limit for SVPD’s new drone patrol program




 

 

Simi Valley is taking to the skies with its latest policing tool: drone patrols.

Unanimously approved by the City Council on Monday, the program allows the Simi Valley Police Department to soar into action with at least seven drones, funded by an estimated $55,000 from the city’s general fund.

The council also passed surveillance technology policies and drone regulations as it prepares for the launch of the program sometime this fall.

SVPD Sgt. Patrick Zayicek said the department is keeping pace with modern policing practices.

“When used with the proper amount of efficacy, this program will make us better, more efficient, safer, and help us serve the community more efficiently,” Zayicek said.

The sergeant noted the surge of aerial technology in law enforcement since 2012, with more than 150 California agencies and 50% of Ventura County’s agencies adopting drone programs.

Since 2019, SVPD has carefully considered the matter, conducting cost analyses and researching best practices, he said, noting that the department currently employs two FAA-certified pilots with extensive training and flight experience who have participated in multiple joint training sessions with Ventura County and Oxnard police department drone teams.

 

 

Zayicek said drones can be used for critical incidents and calls for service needing immediate air support.

“Sometimes getting air support from other agencies has been problematic in the past and not very cost-effective,” he said.

The police drones can also be used to search for fleeing suspects who sometimes go into yards and open fields.

“This is something that would assist us in apprehending those suspects,” Zayicek said.

Zayicek said the drones could be utilized in SWAT deployments, hazmat incidents, traffic accident reconstruction and crime scene evidence processing. They could also be used to provide rapid response at outdoor events and to search for missing hikers and bicyclists. However, they won’t be used for random surveillance or issuing traffic violations.

“No one will receive a ticket based on drone footage,” the sergeant said.

He also said drones won’t be utilized for immigration matters or anything infringing on the Fourth Amendment, which safeguards against unreasonable searches and seizures and outlines warrant issuance requirements.

Police drone flight logs will be publicly accessible. However, only information pertaining to the relevant incident will be recorded, not the entire flight, the sergeant said.

SVPD will benefit from other agencies’ experiences, which will help the department avoid early mistakes. The cost of drones has also come down and technology has improved, he said.

Mayor Pro Tem Rocky Rhodes asked if the drones could deliver supplies to stranded hikers. Zayicek explained that while larger, more expensive drones have that capability, the smaller, entry-level ones the police department will initially use cannot.

However Zayicek said the drones SVPD will use are equipped with thermal imaging and a small speaker to communicate with stranded individuals, reassuring them that help is on the way.

In another action, the council approved the purchase of a specialized van that can transport up to 13 individuals to the main jail in Ventura.

This 2024 Ford E-350 vehicle, costing no more than $147,437, is well-equipped to transport suspects with physical issues, the department said in a report.

It also has separate seating areas for men, women and juveniles.