Portland Police To Start Using Drones

Portland, Ore. — On April 5, 2023, the Portland City Council authorized a limited pilot project for the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) to purchase and operate small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS), commonly known as “drones.” The PPB will begin the year-long pilot project, using drones in two areas: the Traffic Division and the Metro Explosive Disposal Unit. The sUASs are expected to cost under $80,000 and will be marked with the City of Portland or Portland Police logo.

The Traffic Division will use a drone to document major crash investigations, post-crash vehicle damage, traffic flow/pattern studies, and provide sUAS support during search and rescue operations. On the other hand, the Metro Explosive Disposal Unit will use a drone to quickly gather information on suspicious items from a distance, search for secondary devices, and confirm the location of items following render safe operations.

PPB personnel assigned to the Specialized Resources Division testified in front of City Council on March 22, 2023, about the program. During the pilot phase, the Bureau will follow ORS 837 Unmanned Aircraft Systems as well as its Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). The SOP prohibits the drone equipment from conducting random or indiscriminate mass surveillance activities, targeting an individual based on individual characteristics, harassing, intimidating or discriminating against any individual or group, and using it for crowd control/crowd management.

The Bureau will train and license pilots and operators, including training on current laws, FAA regulations, and the Bureau’s SOP, and identify equipment needs, tests, and procedures. PPB Chief Chuck Lovell said, “I’m pleased PPB will begin this pilot using drones on a limited basis…During this critical staffing period, PPB continues to look for innovative ways to help us do our jobs more efficiently and effectively.”

The pilot project is set to begin in about 60 days. The regulated use of sUASs by the PPB Investigations Branch is expected to provide improvements in safety for both officers and community members. Additionally, the use of sUAS technology in crime/major crash scene events reduces inconvenience to the public by minimizing documentation time at a scene. To watch the presentation at the March 22, 2023, City Council meeting, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=le8ICB9nE3s (32-minute mark).