The Chula Vista Police Department (CVPD) has started deploying drones as first responders, as part of an initiative with the Federal Aviation Administration.
"No other public safety agency in the nation is doing what we're doing in Chula Vista," said CVPD Captain Vern Sallee.
Under a public safety waiver from the FAA, police can fly drones over people to respond to crimes in progress. Officers can see a drone's live feed on their phones or on monitors in the department's dispatch center.
Currently, the drones are allowed to fly within one mile of CVPD headquarters on 4th Avenue, and must be within a pilot's visual line of site.
The drones are deployed from the dispatch center by a FAA certified pilot, who is a CVPD officer, and monitored by two other pilots on the building's roof.
"For the watch commander, we end up having a lot of calls during the course of a shift. A lot of times we don't get people out there in a timely manner," said Lt. Chris Kelley. "It allows us to clear calls in a timely manner and put the resources to the right calls and get officers on scene to take reports."
The drones first deployed on Monday and have responded to more than 30 calls. The drones can arrive to an emergency call within two minutes.
CVPD Chief Roxana Kennedy said the drones are not replacing officers, but enhancing their safety along with the public's.
"With drones, officers can see if suspect has that weapon so they can plan that game plan or that avenue of approach that's safer," said Kennedy.
The city's vision is to eventually place a drone on top of every fire station in Chula Vista. Sallee said a lot of work needs to get done before that happens, which includes developing safety regulations with the FAA, and ensuring public confidence.
"If we got to that model, we'd be able to respond to any call for service in the city of Chula Vista in two minutes, and give real-time data quality decision to any police officer, live via their phone," said Sallee.
In three months the department will evaluate the program to see if it's sustainable and what improvements can be made. A lot of that sustainability depends on the FAA changing regulations and allowing for automation.
"It's a whole new way of doing business, and we're going to have to align our finances and operations to support it ongoing," said Sallee.
The initiative falls under the FAA Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Integrated Pilot Program (IPP), and includes the City of San Diego, San Diego Regional EDC and Cape.
CVPD has been slowing rolling out its internal drone program over the last few years, and now has a fleet of six drones.