Police drones may soon watch over Tijuana's citizens

Officials promise to follow human rights and privacy guidelines while drafting operational rules

Police drones may soon watch over Tijuana's citizensEl Secretario de Seguridad Pública de Tijuana, Lic. Alejandro Lares Valladares. Cortesía
El Secretario de Seguridad Pública de Tijuana, Lic. Alejandro Lares Valladares. Cortesía

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TIJUANA.- Amazon might not even be able to unveil a prototype drone service without igniting debate in the U.S., but south of the border, the debate seems to have barely begun and the police are already rushing to implement them for daily use. And American drone manufacturers are taking notice.

Last week, the Tijuana director for Public Safety, Alejandro Lares Valladares, confirmed they are currently in the processes of choosing the best provider of unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs (commonly known as "drones"). They are set to be a pillar of new mayor Jorge Astiazarán Orcí's public safety plan for the city and use them as surveillance equipment by police and transit authorities.

He stressed that the program will be made to fully comply with all International Humanitarian and Human Rights laws. Mexico has yet to fully debate the use of drones for civil use and therefore are few, true restrictions on their use by local police departments, which is unlike the U.S., where their usage is strictly regulated and limited mostly to military and homeland defense (although this too is quickly being addressed in America, where some commercial entities are being allowed use of UAVs or UAS).

The city of Puebla in central Mexico is the only other city in the country that operates a similar program to the one proposed in Tijuana, with little or no true public debate on the matter.

Lares reaffirmed that this is part of Mayor Astiazarán's decision to aid public safety forces by arming them with the latest technology, and in the case of "drones", there is a wide array of models available to them and each with their own capabilities.

"We're looking for one that allows us to carry out aerial patrols, with cameras that can provide real time images, «live», and obtain better results when preventing crimes and dissuading delinquent behavior."

The municipal government will choose a type of UAV that fully complies with their needs for the task at hand, and other specification like flight times, coverage area, energy consumption and other factors. Above all of course, is cost, since the mayor's instructions are to make smart decision when it comes to using taxpayer money and following his motto of "austerity, not deficiency."

Director Lares Valladares noted that, prior to implementing the project, they will launch a public information campaign about what exactly a UAV or "drone" is and, mainly, how it would benefit their communities.

These types of devices, he explained, could be used to reinforce surveillance in the Zona Río district, downtown Tijuana, commercial areas and in the more conflicted districts of the city. Whenever a drone is in the air, it'll be patrolling, stated director Lares.

It will be able to detect a robbery in process, somebody trying to break into a car or chatter one of its windows, etc. In short: they will simply be moving, flying surveillance cameras.

When it comes to whom will the city government be buying the UAVs from, they'll license the service to the supplier who can offer the best quality, best price, service and maintenance. it will also depend on the number of devices they acquire.

One of the companies that could supply the new program is a local company based both in San Diego and Tijuana, 3D robotics. Sandra Dibble of the UT San Diego asked Guillermo Romero, the company's general manager in Tijuana, about his talks with mayor Astiazarán and the possibility of them being a local manufacturer for a local program such as this, and Romero acknowledged that they are currently lending the city some of their drones for testing while they secure funding for the program.

Romero, in the article, is aware Mexico has no regulations about the use of drones, but he urged those "who purchase drones to abide by international standards established for operators of remotely controlled model airplanes. Those rules require the vehicles to remain in the operator’s line of sight, not fly over private property and not soar above 400 feet."

“We want to integrate this technology into civilian usage here in the city, without putting at risk individuals or private property,” Romero said to Dibble.

The operation will be under the command of officers from the city police department, trained and working from a special cabin in the department's high-tech surveillance center called the C-2 (short for Control and Command Center in Spanish), working together with other teams from the agency.

Likewise, Lares Valladares mentioned this is part of Astiazarán's plan of modernizing the entire municipal security force, which includes other programs such as integrating smartphones and apps into their information sharing system between all districts.

He ends by saying that this will be a great way to save time, vehicles, fuel and other resources that can be used for other duties by the municipal police force.

Editorial@sandiegored.com

jose.sanchez@sandiegored.com

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