Portland Police Want to Spend $80,000 on New Drone Program

The request goes to the City Council tomorrow.

The Portland Police Bureau is asking for approval from the City Council to divert $80,000 from its existing budget to purchase a drone system, which will be used to take aerial photographs of crime and crash scenes.

The bureau’s current crime scene mapping systems “are slow and provide low resolution output,” according to an item included on tomorrow’s City Council agenda by Mayor Ted Wheeler’s office.

The bureau currently has one drone, a DJI Phantom, which it purchased several years ago to replace the antiquated system. It has yet to be deployed, however. And now, the bureau says, it wants to eventually purchase 12 more.

Bloomberg CityLab covered the new program back in February, detailing how the City Council sought greater transparency in how police use aerial surveillance. “Unlike Portland’s bold ban on facial recognition in 2020, the surveillance resolution does not prohibit use of any technologies, nor does it create direct pathways for blocking them,” the story noted. “The softer approach was by design, in part a way to ensure the policy did not hit roadblocks from a city council whose political makeup has shifted toward centrist positions on policing.”

The agenda item offers other potential uses for the new drones, including deescalating hostage situations.

“With unmanned aerial systems, agencies can safely map potential crime scenes, surveil active crimes in progress, and investigate traffic accident scenes within a third of the time of ground-level investigations,” the agenda item says.

It notes that the program will not be used for “mass surveillance,” harassment or “crowd management.”

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