Berkeley rejects idea of making city a No Drone Zone

A quadricopter drone. Photo: jalexartis

A quadricopter drone, one of the many models popular with hobbyists. Photo: jalexartis

At its meeting last night, the Berkeley City Council rejected a recommendation from the Peace and Justice Commission to establish a No Drone Zone in the city. Instead, the council referred the issue to three commissions — the Peace and Justice Commission, the Police Review Commission, and Disaster and Fire Safety Commssion — with guidelines for public safety agencies’ use of drones to be reviewed at a future council workshop.

During public comment more than a dozen people spoke in favor of the Peace and Justice Commission proposal, which would have banned all drones except for hobbyist use (and those would have been restricted to drones without cameras).

Councilmembers, however, argued that there could be some beneficial uses for drones.

Councilman Jesse Arreguín agreed that the technology could potentially infringe on privacy rights, and said policies to prevent that were needed. But he suggested that drones could be valuable for public safety in the event of disasters, searching for missing persons, rescue operations, and when police are in pursuit of a known suspect.

“Drones have been used for very bad purposes, but drones can serve a purpose,” agreed Councilman Laurie Capitelli.

“Berkeley doesn’t have jurisdiction over its airspace and we can’t enforce it unless we buy Patriot missiles to shoot things down,” said Councilman Gordon Wozniak, who also pointed out the potential beneficial uses of drones.

Councilman Max Anderson said it was important to have clear guidelines developed for drone use.

“Unless we are restrictive and proscriptive about how they are going to be used, we are going to be screwed,” he said.

The Council also voted to send a letter to the Alameda Board of Supervisors requesting they delay any purchase of a drone until Berkeley’s deliberative process was over.

Berkeley considers becoming a No Drone Zone [12.18.12]

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  • Tom Jacobs

    Crime rates are down nationwide. Terrorists still haven’t found their way into my community, my front yard, or within 1,000 miles of my home. I would in fact love to see a terrorist, since my tax money has been so well spent on getting rid of these varmits. Can’t they put one in a glass box and parade it around the country, so we can see what we are paying for with so much of our hard-earned income?

    Until then, the drones thing seems like a overblown, over-dramatized (waaaaa!!!!) sissy reaction to a nearly non-existent problem. If the drones will prevent 300,000 people dying from cancer each year in the US, then I think they will be worthwhile. Only 4,000 people died on 9/11 — one time. Such a very very very very small number to warrant drones, verdad?

  • The Sharkey

    The drones would be a potential solution to things like BPD not having access to a helicopter or canine units, both of which are very real problems when it comes to trying to track suspects.

    Glad to see the Council show some sense on this issue. I was wrong to assume they’d just bend to pressure from the paranoid minority.

  • Tom Jacobs

    Crime rates are down and still decreasing. What part of that do you not understand? Drones are therefore a waste of money when it could be spent on where actual problems exist. This is called basic Project Prioritization 101. Since this method is used daily in every major corporation across the planet, I suspect you are the tiny little itty bitty minority — and you are trying to make up for it by tossing out the “minority” label first. Nice appeal to emotions with the “paranoid” label. Would love to get you in a corporate board room so I could tear you apart, bit by bit, to clearly demonstrate how your brain has stopped working properly.

  • serkes

    Gee … not only is Berkeley a Nuclear-Free Zone, but it’s also seems to becoming an Earthquake + Crime-Free Zone

    There needs to be guidelines for use of a drone with video and audio equipment, but I for one would be delighted if Berkeley Police, Fire, and Public Safety responders would have one to use.

    I think it could reduce the risk to first responders in emergency situations, fighting crime … and tracking mountain lions.


  • Charles_Siegel

    “Terrorists still haven’t found their way into my community”

    What is your community? I strongly suspect that you do not live in Berkeley.

  • Tom Jacobs

    I own property near University and MLK. Where do you live?

  • BerkeleyCommonSense

    I know exactly what you’re saying. I keep trying to buy cars without airbags or seatbelts but I can’t find one. I’m just trying to save some money because after all, I’ve never been in a car accident.

  • Charles_Siegel

    I own a house and live near University and MLK.

    Where do you live? Is the property you own near University and MLK the house that you live in?

  • The Sharkey

    Crime rates being down does not mean that crime no longer occurs.
    Crime rates being down does not mean that BPD does not need to track suspects across yards and through difficult to access areas.

    A drone costs less than a helicopter, and plenty of Police departments have those. A drone probably costs less than a K9 unit and officer, and plenty of Police departments have those. A drone is actually a cost-effective solution to the problem of tracking suspects in urban areas.

    Someone who can’t manage to grasp the fact that drone technology has literally nothing to do with terrorism or 9/11 lecturing anyone else on appeals to emotion or lack of brain function is hilarious.

  • The Sharkey

    Absolutely. Established procedure + public notice and accountability need to be put in place before the use of a drone should be authorized but really it would be an excellent tool for BPD that could make it easier for them to respond in emergency situations and allow them to track suspects or survey dangerous situations without having to put anyone in harms way.

  • Worblehat

    Plant a lot of trees. Everywhere. Problem solved.

  • chris juricich

    I recognize the sarcasm but the point isn’t clear to me.

    As for Sharkey’s assertion that drones are a cost effective substitute for helicopters, he is correct. The initial discussion wasn’t about the cost effectiveness of drones for any use, but whether or not they should be banned from Berkeley skies–which is a ridiculous notion and Luddite in the extreme.