A controversial drone secretly purchased by the San Jose Police Department's bomb squad in January 2014 could finally take to the air in a one-year pilot program.
On Wednesday night, the San Jose Neighborhoods Commission will release a report recommending that the San Jose City Council approve the pilot program for the $7,000 drone, paid for by taxpayers from the city's general fund.
The recommendations come after input from angry residents and civil liberties groups who attended four public neighborhood meetings. Ernest Guzman, executive analyst for the city manager's office, said the report includes policies that will guide police on what the drone can be used for and when.
"Including potentially the use of the San Jose police auditor to be part of the process that will oversee the pilot program," said Guzman.
That statement surprised San Jose's outgoing independent police auditor, retired Santa Clara County Superior Court judge LaDoris Cordell, when she heard it on KQED radio this morning.
"In order for the independent police auditor to have oversight, the city charter would have to be amended by the voters of San Jose to expand our jurisdiction," said Cordell. "It's good the commission is thinking this way, but the mechanism they chose -- this office -- cannot work. They could possibly use the city attorney's office for oversight."
A spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California said the San Jose Police Department is now doing a better job of engaging the public on the issue.
"They recognize how essential it is to make sure the public is a part of the conversation when it comes to decisions about whether to equip law enforcement with surveillance technology," said Will Matthews, spokesman for the ACLU of Northern California.
"We hope that the department is committed to engaging the public in a robust and transparent way anytime they seek to use surveillance technology."
In May, the commission's recommendation for the one-year pilot program will go to the San Jose City Council's Public Safety, Finance & Strategic Support Committee before possibly going to the full council for a vote.
On March 19, as seen in the video below, the San Jose Police Department also presented a recommendation for a one-year drone pilot program before the Public Safety Committee. They have been working together with the Neighborhoods Commission to get a strict drone use policy.
The San Jose Police Department said it takes full responsibility for mishandling the secret purchase of the drone in January 2014. SJPD spokesman Albert Morales said police representatives have attended all of the public hearings on the drone.
"We admitted we made a mistake, we moved forward with full transparency and we are attempting to make this right," Morales said.
Morales said the whole point of using the drone is to keep officers and residents out of harm's way in bomb and other situations when lives are in danger.
Even if the San Jose City Council eventually approves a drone policy, the Federal Aviation Administration must approve a certificate of authorization for the department to fly it, a lengthy and cumbersome process.
"Those certificate guidelines include how to fly it, the physical makeup of the device, airspace distances and those types of things," said Morales.
The spokesman for the San Jose Police Department added that the process is additionally long because not all the FAA guidelines have been worked out.
Read the commission recommendation: