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Irvine City Council votes 4-0 for IPD drones

The Irvine City Council voted 4-0 on Sept. 25 to begin a drone division that will assist the Irvine Police Department (IPD) in performing various duties around the city. The drone will be controlled by a four-person team and used to perform reconnaissance over crime scenes, participate in search and rescue operations and assist SWAT units.

The program is currently in a testing phase, with $29,000 spent on the training for the division as well as the purchase of a single Matrice 200, a drone model built by DJI. Around two feet in length, the drone is capable of flying for more than half an hour, with a range of four miles from the operator. Along with a weather-resistant chasis, the drone will be fitted with a front-facing infrared camera.

Recent controversy surrounding the use of drones in law enforcement has led to strict regulations on when and where the drone can be deployed. Use of the onboard camera is severely restricted: It cannot be pointed at occupied buildings or civilians not related to the immediate situation. No recordings can be made during transit from the point of deployment until the drone arrives above the approved area of operation.

“It’s our intention to meet with the community and share with them how the [drone] program enhances public safety, steps we will take to safeguard privacy and respond to question,” Irvine Police Lieutenant Bill Bingham said.

The City Council saw the use of drones as a benefit to police operations because drones are capable of doing the work of a helicopter crew for a fraction of the cost. The affordability even led to the suggestion of the authorization of two drones and an increased $50,000 budget for training. However, the IPD wants to test the abilities and use of a single drone before expanding their fleet.

“The intent was to get the program off the ground, no pun intended,” Irvine Police Chief Mike Hamel said to the Voice of OC. “If we had a second drone now we could probably utilize