Bomb-Disposal Robot Is SF Police’s Most-Advanced Technology

policeblotter_sfa.jpgDrones aren’t coming to San Francisco anytime soon.

Unlike law-enforcement colleagues in the East Bay, the San Francisco Police Department has no plans to add drones or similar “unmanned aerial vehicles” to its arsenal of crime-fighting tools, police said Tuesday.

“We have no plans to have a drone at this time,” police spokesman Officer Albie Esparza said Tuesday.

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, SFPD has pursued drone technology in the recent past.

SFPD Lt. Thomas Feledy sent a request for $100,000 in grant funding to The Bay Area Urban Area Security Initiative, a regional homeland security organization, reports government transparency watchdog MuckRock. That request was rejected. SFPD did not immediately explain why their drone plans changed.

The Bay Area’s first law-enforcement drones could have been in flight as early as next year. The Alameda County sheriff’s department accepted a $31,646 grant to help pay for a drone, which would be used for “surveillance” as well as search-and-rescue missions.

On Tuesday, plans to purchase the drone were delayed after protest from community groups and the ACLU. It’s believed that if approved, the local drone would be the first in use by a California law enforcement agency.

Privacy advocates, led by the American Civil Liberties Union, strongly oppose the notion of drones in Bay Area skies. Others contend that the small unmanned surveillance robots are less obtrusive than police helicopters.

SFPD has also not had a helicopter unit since 2000, when the department’s military-surplus helicopter crashed. Both officers on board were killed, and the department’s Air Support Unit was not restored.

The SFPD police helicopter’s last patrol flight was on Dec. 31, 1999. If a police activity requires the use of the helicopter, SFPD has an agreement with the California Highway Patrol to use its helicopter “if it is available,” Esparza said.

Currently, a bomb-disposal robot is the department’s most high-tech crime-fighting tool. That robot was the cause of some alarming humor in 2011, when the robot dropped and then ran over a grenade it was attempting to retrieve. The grenade did not detonate, but the entire episode was broadcast on live television.

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