The City of Porterville, the Porterville Police Department (PPD) and the Porterville Fire Department will all be benefactors of the newly approved Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) program that was approved by the City Council on Tuesday night.

The council unanimously approved the implementation of the program and the purchase of five drones through a local vendor.

PPD Police Chief Eric Kroutil presented the item to the Council on Tuesday night. PPD has been in the process of researching a UAS program for several years. Through the research, PPD decided it was best to purchase drones from All Drone Solutions, a business owned by Mark Hall in Exeter who has been in the technology business for more than 20 years.

Kroutil said UAS systems can be used in a variety of ways including surveying scenes during natural and manmade disasters, searching large areas for missing children or dangerous persons, and monitoring large crowds, events and illegal activity, among many other things. The implementation of a UAS program can also be used for city functions as well. Kroutil said nearly every city department can benefit from a UAS program. Currently, PPD has a member of its command staff who has been trained and is certified to operate drones. PPD’s current policy allows the department to implement an UAS program and Kroutil said more personnel will be trained and certified to operate the drones.

Through PPD’s research, it was determined DJI model drones were the best models to purchase, and the DJI model is already being used throughout the county. DJI models are adaptable and available in a miniature version, known as a tactical drone, which can be used inside buildings without personnel having to go inside. All Drones Solutions is the only local authorized DJI distributor and repair facility.

Kroutil explained PPD is requesting the purchase of five drones through All Drone Solutions, two day operation drones, two night operation drones and one tactical drone, with the total purchase amount of $18,440.77. Funds for the purchase are available through the department’s budget.

When the discussion opened to the Council, Council member Milt Stowe said he thinks the UAS program is an outstanding opportunity for the city and knows it will enhance officer safety. Stowe asked about general privacy on private property and if there was an exception for public safety personnel who would be using the drones.

Drones don’t give us any right to be somewhere that a police officer's body cannot be,” said Kroutil. “We can’t fly over people’s backyard, unless we have probable cause to be in that backyard physically. We can’t use the drone for any type of purposes that we would normally not have a reason to do, probable cause for certain areas and public areas are obviously open, but it doesn’t give us any extra rights, it certainly does not.”

Kroutil said he understands privacy concerns and addressing privacy concerns is part of the UAS program training.

Council member Kellie Carrillo thanked Kroutl for his report and update, and said he had good examples of what types of incidents the program would assist in. She had questions about vendors and training, but her questions were addressed during Kroutil’s report. She ended her comments by stating the cost for the drones is fair for the amount of equipment that would be received. Vice Mayor Martha Flores added she thinks the implementation of the program would be wonderful and knows it had been discussed in the past.

Council member Daniel Penaloza echoed the same sentiments and said lots of good can come from the program and the technology will benefit the city in many different ways. He also expressed his gratitude to Kroutil for selecting a local vendor.

Before it went to vote, Mayor Monte Reyes added flight and pilot safety is a major concern and these devices are safer for pilots and helicopter operators. He also said the drones are more environmentally sustainable to operate frequently and this technology will bring major benefits to the city.

Kroutil quickly clarified, as he has been asked many times, the drones will have no weapon capabilities as they're not military drones.

Stowe moved for the approval of the implementation of an UAS program and the purchase of five drones from All Drones Solutions in the amount of $18,440.77. Flores seconded the motion and it was approved with a vote of 5-0.

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