Chula Vista Police Drone as a First Responder (DFR)

Drone as a First Responder (DFR) is the new paradigm in emergency management that allows emergency personnel to view live video feeds of incidents before they arrive on the scene. The Chula Vista, CA Police Department (CVPD) routinely deploys drones to emergency calls and provides incident management and a live video feed to officers. This live video, or Decision Quality Data (DQD), gives first responders critical information to plan the best tactics and response to an emergency.

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Law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad have been criticized for poor tactics and training, especially during incidents resulting in the use of force or officer-involved shootings. This problem is made worse when responding officers do not have critical information prior to arriving at an incident. The lack of initial incident information is a hazard to officers, the public and to suspects.

The Chula Vista Police Department (CVPD) provides local law enforcement services to a city of 270,000. CVPD officials realized that drones could provide critical information to responding officers if a drone could routinely respond to calls, arrive first, and stream live video of an evolving incident to police. CVPD partnered with Cape Aerial Telepresence, a drone software company, to pioneer and test the concept under the United States Federal Aviation Administration's UAS Integration Pilot Program (

Starting in October 2018, CVPD has routinely launched drones to respond to emergency calls for service within 3 Nautical Miles (NM) of its 2 launch sites. The drones themselves are teleoperated and controlled via a standard desktop computer using Cape's technology. The Tele-Operator (T.O.) can maneuver the drone within a geo-fenced map which controls minimum and maximum altitudes, a geo-fenced perimeter, and geo-fenced obstacles. The technology can remotely operate a Cape enabled drone anywhere in the world from a standard desktop computer and internet connection.

The technology enables the drone to fly in a geo-fenced flight envelope, making it extremely safe. There is still a visual observer at each launch site, a Pilot in Command (PIC), to scan the airspace for aerial threats and to maintain the drone, but the T.O. maneuvers the drone to respond to the scene and acts as an incident coordinator by directing resources over standard emergency radios to the first responders, including police and firefighters, below. CVPD is a leading FAA IPP testing site with a proven track record of flight safety and community impact and one of the first permitted to be authorized to fly Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS).

Operating 4 days a week, CVPD currently launches drones from two fixed locations, and the T.O., who is scanning Live911 calls, can select the drone closest to a given incident. The drones typically arrive between 2-3 minutes from launch, often beating ground units. The department's two commercial drones are equipped with a 30x zoom camera, giving it powerful zoom capability. The T.O. can fly the drone, operate the camera, Livestream the video to responding officers and help support and direct their actions via radio. Up to 50 first responders can watch the live video on their smartphones, giving them real-time situational awareness to plan the best operational response and tactics before arriving on the scene.

In law enforcement, front line officers are often the least experienced personnel. DFR allows supervisors, managers, and other leaders to observe the response and make corrections or re-prioritize resources in real-time. DFR is a game-changing innovation because the drone provides Decision Quality Data (DQD) via live-streamed video. This DQD can inform first responders earlier, thus allowing them to adjust tactics and bring to bear appropriate resources. Ideally, this would include the ability to de-escalate scenes by tailoring tactics and approaches to mitigate threats.

With over 1,075 missions, CVPD has become the lighthouse agency for the pioneering use of drones in a whole new manner - proactively and routinely vs. reactively and intermittently. CVPD has demonstrated use cases where DFR has improved officer safety, community safety, and even the safety of suspects because officers have better information and can use better tactics and less force.

The United States has over 18,000 State, Local, Tribal and Territorial law enforcement agencies but only around 200 have manned helicopter programs, each of which is extremely expensive to maintain. Even in large agencies, helicopters are too expensive to send to routine incidents. DFR opens up aerial response and real-time video to all emergency services agencies at a fraction of the cost. Moreover, the cost is so low, that even the smallest agencies could afford to implement a version of the program in their community. Finally, CVPD's program has been replicated by the Tijuana, MX and Mexico City, MX police departments, showing that it can also be replicated internationally to improve public safety.
CVPD is expanding the program and working with the FAA and the UAS industry and technology partners to standardize and make the program scalable to almost any agency. CVPD leaders have presented the program to leading national law enforcement agencies, UAS conferences, and technology groups. DFR is the proven new paradigm in emergency incident management.

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