MENDOCINO Co., 10/21/21 — Agencies within the Mendocino County government are operating at least six unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or surveillance drones, according to county documents and a report found in the Atlas of Surveillance, a project of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) aiming to “document police tech in our communities with open source research.”
They cite the third edition of a report called Public Safety Drones from the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College, which is not specifically about Mendocino County and does not mention us at any point, but does include some other interesting details: At least 1,578 government agencies in the United States have acquired drones, about 70% of those agencies work in law enforcement, and the majority of drones used in that capacity are consumer-grade models manufactured by China-based DJI Technology Co.
The Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) operates five DJI drones, each a different model, according to a spreadsheet furnished by Capt. Greg Van Patten in response to a request for comment. There are five different models, including an M1P Mavic Pro, an M1X Mavic Pro Platinum, a Matrice 210 V2, a Mavic Mini and a Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual. The specific capabilities on each model have been redacted.
“The UAV program has been a significant benefit to our Search & Rescue missions and has enhanced officer safety when used in connection with field activities not prohibited by the UAV program policy,” Van Patten said in an email Thursday. “We have had several situations where the use of an UAV has saved the lives of our deputies during potentially deadly tstand-off situations with armed persons.”
Van Patten also provided a copy of that policy, which is three pages long and available here. The policy prohibits using drones and enhanced optics like thermal imaging to record private citizens in private areas like their homes or yards, or anywhere they have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the legal sense, without a warrant or “exigent circumstances” — defined by Cornell Law School as “circumstances that would cause a reasonable person to believe that entry (or other relevant prompt action) was necessary to prevent physical harm to the officers or other persons, the destruction of relevant evidence, the escape of the suspect, or some other consequence improperly frustrating legitimate law enforcement efforts.”
Section 136.6 of the policy, which defines prohibited uses of the sheriff’s drones, states that unmanned aerial surveillance equipment shall not be used by deputies for random surveillance activities; to target any individual based on race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, disability, gender or sexual orientation; to harass, intimidate or discriminate; or for deputies conduct personal business of any type. The section also states that drones shall not be weaponized.
MCSO and the Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office are among at least 140 California agencies to procure drones so far, according to Public Safety Drones. The DA’s office is flying a DJI Phantom 210, according to the dataset provided by the EFF, which cites the MCSO’s Search and Rescue website as well as an article in the Ukiah Daily Journal as their sources of information, but we have provided some additional resources. It should be noted that the UDJ article appears to have been written by DA spokesman Mike Geniella. We’ve filed a request for additional information under the California Public Records Act, seeking to pin down exactly how many drones are in use by the DA or any other county department, and this story will be updated if we find anything interesting.
Of course, there are drones secretly flying around overhead and of course, their official purpose is to “save lives.” However, who is monitoring the limitations of their use? Who or what agency can we hold responsible for transgressions and going over the line. I really do not care if a cop drone is flying over my neighbor’s yard or even peeking in the windows. But not my house, not my yard, not my windows! As more people learn about this, I have a suggestion for the MCSO. Better, put out a public service announcement about using a shotgun to shoot the little buggers down and stomping on them. Just a friendly, courteous comment from a citizen who enjoys his privacy. You are welcome.
This will be fun target practice…..
Guess all we have is their word that they are only using their drones for the purposes they have stated….Hmmm.
If the agencies truly have nothing to hide with what they are viewing with these drones, and transparency is the goal, perhaps a dedicated LIVE FEED link of what they are looking at with the drones would be in order. The technology is already there. Mendocino County residents deserve and should demand the trust and transparency from all of its government agencies.
I have been seeing drones in Mendocino County for years, but for the last year + I have been followed everywhere I go. I can always find at least one in the sky around my property at night, and anywhere I drive, they follow. One looks like a very bright star, some have a blinking red light, there is one that blinks a tiny white light every now and then…. I am not crazy, other people can see them too. They are going to drive me crazy though, I don’t understand what I am doing that is so interesting that someone feels I need constant and total surveillance. The one time I said something about it to a cop, he said drones couldn’t stay in the air for as long as I described. (And he “knows drones!”) Don’t let anyone tell you the max time a drone can stay airborne is 20 minutes. I feel the constant presence of the drones is excessive and inappropriate, it is having a negative impact on my mental health. It doesn’t help that most people, unless they have actually seen them for themselves, think I am crazy. “Who has the time or the money to follow YOU?” I have asked myself the same thing, and it does seem ridiculous, but there they are, just the same. Makes me feel pretty helpless, who do I go to about this? If it’s the police, they aren’t going to admit it, if it’s someone else I still don’t know what good talking to the police would do….I have started recording them anyway, just in case. There really needs to be more restrictions on those things, I have NO privacy and no way of knowing who is invading it. I am curious how many others are experiencing the same thing.
In response to the article about the drones patrolling the night sky in our county, posted October 21, 2021, both my husband and I can attest to seeing the drones on a routine basis got at least a year. We have even identified where their “home base” might be. We live in Anderson Valley and often see them above us and quite often following us! We have watched them fly above us on Highway 253 when traveling from Boonville to Ukiah and back. As the individual said in the letter posted in December, they are watching and following us wherever we go primarily in the evening. We have recorded them as well and we find it concerning, but often amazing. However, if the county government is using them to spy on its citizens, it makes the drones very creepy! So, yes, we would very much like to know their purposes. Especially since they only appear in the night sky and act as if they are being controlled by a human, and most people have no idea they are even there!