5 supervisors want to authorize police drone use to deter sideshows

Five San Francisco supervisors are seeking out a policy change so police can use aerial drones during sideshow activities.   

In a letter authored Tuesday, the supervisors requested the city's Committee on Information Technology (COIT) to craft a new policy to allow the San Francisco Police Department to use unarmed drones in the event of sideshows taking place in intersections.   

Since 2019 COIT has developed, reviewed and approved all city department surveillance technology use. The letter requests the committee to work with SFPD to prepare a surveillance impact report and recommend a drone use policy that the Board of Supervisors could later vote on.   

Co-signed by supervisors Myrna Melgar, Matt Dorsey, Ahsha Safai, and Catherine Stefani, the letter notes that illegal sideshows involving dozens or hundreds of vehicles have become an "increasing concern" throughout the Bay Area, and can lead to property damage and violent crimes.   

Rather than having an officer attempt to intervene or chase vehicles themselves, using a drone could identify license plates and individuals, so police can later make arrests and impound suspect vehicles -- "all from a safe distance," reads the letter.   


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"When dozens, sometimes hundreds of vehicles take an intersection hostage late at night, law enforcement has to make a difficult choice about whether to intervene with the calculation that intervention could create an even more dangerous situation," said Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who authored the letter. "SFPD needs every tool available to make our streets safer, and this sensible policy change to allow the use of drones to identify and later impound involved vehicles will help us take back our streets."     

The letter notes that SFPD only uses drones in "narrow circumstances" like search and rescue, while other cities like Oakland and Los Angeles already permit their police to use drones.   

The request is also backed by District Attorney Brooke Jenkins, who says drone use is a "common-sense solution" that can deter sideshows and provide effective information to assist in prosecuting suspects.   

"Sideshows are dangerous and law enforcement must respond in a way that makes the community safer, while ensuring there are consequences for participants," Jenkins said.