Sacramento Supes OK Big Money Eye-in-Sky Drones, Militarized Weapons

Photo by Jason Blackeye on Unsplash

By Crescenzo Vellucci

The Vanguard Sacramento Bureau Chief

SACRAMENTO, CA – The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office last week moved to further militarize its enforcement actions after the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors approved—with nary an opposing vote—$160,000 for the purchase of several different types of drones, and so-called “non-lethal” firearms.

It’s worth noting Sacramento law enforcement agencies have paid out large settlement monies for the damage those armaments have caused.

The sheriff said the equipment would be used only for “high risk” incidents, but the ACLU has long warned against the proliferation of drones, in particular.

“With over 1,400 police departments in the U.S. already using drones, ‘Drones as First Responder’ programs are beginning to proliferate with little oversight or accountability,” argues the ACLU.

The sheriff’s office was required to present its annual military equipment use report, mandated by Assembly Bill 481, that requires transparency by law enforcement agencies for military equipment inventory and how it’s to be used.

The Sacramento Bee reported the office admitted, “The technology is very new. It’s a new use in some small cities where one drone can cover the entire city. Obviously, the county is a much bigger area that would require a lot more resources and expense. Most of our drones are outside of our first-responder trial program that we use, and are deployed out to our field resources.”

The sheriff’s office asked for two unmanned aerial systems with vertical takeoff and landing abilities, and cameras similar to the 44 drones already in use. The new drones that the sheriff’s office requested can remain aerial for up to two hours. The score of older ones can be aloft for just 20 minutes at a time.

The sheriff’s office told the supervisors they wanted to use the drones for shoplifting incidents—each drone costs $43,760.

The sheriff’s office also asked for three additional ones at $14,000 each—traditional drones for the Rancho Cordova Police Department, a law enforcement agency the sheriff’s office contracts with through that city.

The ACLU, in its drone report, has insisted “novel uses for drones threaten to pave the way for an even greater expansion of the aircraft in the skies above American communities. A world where flying robotic police cameras constantly crisscross our skies is one we have never seen before…drones are far cheaper and can therefore be used by many more departments and in much greater numbers.

“Widespread police use of drones would be a major change…It’s important that we don’t sleepwalk into a world of widespread aerial surveillance, that communities think very carefully about whether they want drone surveillance, and, if they decide to permit some operations, put in place guardrails that will prevent those operations from expanding.”

The ACLU, in its report, reminds people that “a number of critics have pointed out, it’s questionable how much the presence of drones really helps the authorities in dealing with everyday police calls—but every deployment means a law enforcement camera flying across town.

“Communities that have decided they want to allow their police department to use BVLOS [beyond visual line-of-sight] drones as first responders should impose limits on the circumstances under which those drones are deployed (and) should also bear in mind that mass and suspicionless aerial surveillance violates the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment.”

See the full ACLU report: https://assets.aclu.org/live/uploads/2023/07/embargo-drones-as-first-responder-programs-final-electronic.pdf

The sheriff’s office also requested further military-grade equipment such as firearms, as well as high-caliber ammunition and less-than-lethal projectiles. The cost is $32,760 for the next budget year, The Bee reported.

Keyan Bliss, a member of the city’s Community Police Review Commission, said people of color would be most at risk from more equipment.

“The disproportionate use of military equipment and force by law enforcement in communities of color, particularly against Black Californians…” Bliss highlighted, adding that special equipment was deployed against Black residents 49 times in the past year.

The sheriff’s office’s 2023 review seemed to confirm that—noting Black residents, a distinct minority in Sacramento, were the targets of the office about the same as white counterparts.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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