“This is a public health announcement.”
A voice from the sky. Friendly but not familiar.
“This is the Chula Vista Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Team.”
The voice was coming from a small drone flying 50 feet above the ground. It was calling out to dozens of people living in small camps along Plaza Bonita Road in Chula Vista.
The Chula Vista Police Department took another step into the future recently when it attached speakers to some of its drones.
Friday, the department’s Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) used the drones to contact people living along a creek near Plaza Bonita Mall. Police call it “The Jungle” because of all the thick brush, rocks, and creek that runs through the area.
“It’s a very tricky area to get in to,” said CVPD Sgt. Ernie Pinedo.
Pinedo said it would take HOT at least two days to reach all the people living in makeshift campsites.
“We then have to think of innovative ways to reach them in a short amount of time,” he said.
“Please stay at least six feet away from each other.”
That’s when Chula Vista Police became the first to attach speakers to their drones in order to make announcements. What used to take two days to contact everyone, now only takes a few hours.
Friday, two drones flew over “The Jungle” repeating the same message in English and Spanish.
“We are offering everyone a free health assessment.”
The message warned about the coronavirus, steps they should take to protect themselves, and invited people out to the street where police set up a station for health checks and to give people supplies.
“This is not enforcement,” said Sgt. Pinedo. “This is simply outreaching.”
People started appearing out of the thick brush in only a few minutes, including a woman named Laura.
“I need some masks,” the woman said while holding a plastic bag full of protective items.
“We have a county nurse who can make a call and get them to a situation where they’re going to get further tested,” added Pinedo.
“I pretty much know all of these guys and they’re really nice guys,” said Laura about HOT. “They’re just out to help us.”
“It makes us feel good,” concluded Pinedo. “We’re helping every citizen of Chula Vista, whether you’re a resident or homeless in an encampment.”
“Thank you and stay safe Chula Vista.”
The Chula Vista Police Department said it will continue using the drones to reach the homeless as often as once a week until it’s not needed anymore.