PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Portland Police Bureau’s drone use has more than doubled since officers began using the newly purchased surveillance equipment in June.
The Portland City Council okayed the use of drones for police investigations in April when it approved PPB’s request to spend $80,000 on new drone equipment. The purchase marked the start of a year-long experimentation period where the city will monitor and assess PPB’s application of the flying cameras.
As part of the pilot program, PPB agreed to publish monthly reports showing where, when and why police drones were used in the field. PPB formally published the data map of its drone use on Nov. 9, which it calls “unmanned aerial systems call activity.”
“The dashboard includes an interactive data visualization designed for ease of use and maximum possible transparency,” PPB said. “The interactivity allows users to filter the information based on the questions they are hoping to answer. For example, users can filter by flight types.”
According to the data, PPB deployed drones seven times in both June and July, eight times in August and 15 times in September. When PPB pitched the project to city council members in April, PPB Sgt. James Defrain said that the drones would be used to improve civilian and officer safety, de-escalate potential standoff situations, reduce the number of officers needed to investigate crime scenes and cut down traffic closure times on Portland’s interstate highways.
PPB has recorded 37 drone flights since June, with “exigent circumstances” accounting for the bureau’s primary use of the equipment. PPB said that its “exigent” flight category represents a number of urgent situations, including: Gathering information about explosive devices from a safe distance, confirming the location of items and providing support during disasters like a building collapse. When clicked on, the “exigent” category shows that the category is also commonly used to express investigations into suspicious people, vehicles or circumstances.
PPB’s second most common use of drones has been for serving search warrants. Since June, PPB has deployed drones for 11 search warrants. Other drone uses that are permitted during the trial phase include training and traffic investigations.
The drone data will be updated on the 15th of each month. The next update is scheduled for Wednesday, when statistics will be added for the month of October.
PPB said that its drones are “slightly modified” versions of drones sold to the public. PPB’s drones are required to be marked with City of Portland or Portland Police logos.