Jun 272020
 

Police aircraft are frequently spotted circling around peaceful protests around the country. These aircraft are typically equipped with high-powered cameras with equipment capable of recording and transmitting the video captured by the equipment. This article focuses on law enforcement aircraft used in the San Francisco Bay Area.

At a protest one week after San Leandro Police shot and killed Steven Taylor on April 18, 2020, an Oakland Police helicopter with the tail number N220PD was observed circling protesters as they drove to the Walmart where Taylor was killed.

Oakland Police Department McDonnell Douglas 369E helicopter N220PD. Photo by Mike Katz-Lacabe.
Oakland Police Department McDonnell Douglas 369E helicopter N220PD

N220PD has a FLIR 8500 camera that installed in Jan. 2016. According to the manufacturer, the camera has thermal imaging and can auto track a target or scene and point a laser to direct ground forces.

Examples of what the FLIR 8500 camera is capable of can be seen in this promotional video from YouTube.

The Oakland Police Department’s other helicopter, tail number N510PD, also has a FLIR 8500 camera.

Oakland Police Department McDonnell Douglas 369E helicopter N510PD. Source: flickr.com
Oakland Police Department McDonnell Douglas 369E helicopter N510PD

An East Bay Regional Park District Police helicopter with tail number N996PD was seen circling Oakland during protests against police brutality in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. N996PD has a FLIR U8500XRLP camera that was installed in 2010.

East Bay Regional Park District Police Eurocopter AS350B2 helicopter N996PD. Source: flickr.com
East Bay Regional Park District Police Eurocopter AS350B2 helicopter N996PD

A second East Bay Regional Park District Police helicopter with tail number N708PD also has a FLIR 8500 camera, a high-intensity SX-16 searchlight and a basket/pod attachment for rescues.

East Bay Regional Park District Poice Eurocopter AS350B3 helicopter N708PD. Source: flickr.com
East Bay Regional Park District Police Eurocopter AS350B3 helicopter N708PD

The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office has a Cessna U206G airplane, tail number N5525U, with a FLIR 8500 camera, Avalex AVR8000 digital video recorder, and BMS BMT75-9P Microwave Downlink System.

Alameda County Sheriff Cessna U206G airplane N5525U

The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office will soon have its own helicopter: a Bell Textron 505 Jet Ranger X equipped with a Wescam MX-10 camera system, Trakkabeam TLX Searchlight, AEM 300 watt Loudhailer loudspeaker, and Churchill ARS700 Map System connected to the MX-10 camera and TLX Searchlight. The no-bid $3 million helicopter purchase was approved on October 29, 2019, by the Alameda County Board of Supervisors.

A California Highway Patrol airplane, tail number N137HP, was also seen circling the George Floyd protests in Oakland in June 2020. This Gippsaero is equipped with a Wescam MX-15 camera, Uniden BCD536HP scanner, and Rho Theta RT-600 Multi-Band Direction Finder.

California Highway Patrol Gippsaero GA8-TC230 airplane N137HP.

According to the manufacturer, the Wescam MX-15 camera is ideal for “covert intelligence, surveillance & reconnaissance,” has thermal imaging, a laser illuminator to highlight targets and can track targets. A demonstration of its capabilities can be seen on YouTube.

The Contra Costa County Sheriff helicopter, tail number N408CC, is a Textron Canada 407, with a FLIR Star Safire 380-HDc camera system with a thermal image infrared sensor. The camera is interfaced to a searchlight slaving system, two video monitors and a Churchill augmented reality system (ARS-600). Like other surveillance cameras, it can automatically track targets. The FLIR Star Safire 380-HDc camera and its capabilities can be seen in this YouTube video.

Contra Costa County Sheriff Bell N408CC Textron Canada 407 helicopter N408CC

The San Jose Police Department helicopter, tail number N408PD, is an Airbus AS 350B3, with a Wescam MX-10 camera, Trakkabeam A800 Searchlight, Churchill ARS700 Map System, and a Power Sonix (“The Sound of Homeland Security”) loudspeaker.

San Jose Police Department Airbus AS350B3 helicopter N408PD
San Jose Police Department Airbus AS350B3 helicopter N408PD

The Sonoma County Sheriff helicopter, tail number N108SC, is a Bell Textron 407 with a Wescam MX-10 camera, Aerocomputers UC6000 digital mapping system, Aero Dynamix night vision imaging system, Luminator HSL-1600 searchlight, and an AEM LS600 loudspeaker.

Sonoma County Sheriff Bell Textron Helicopter N108SC. Source: flickr.com
Sonoma County Sheriff Bell Textron Helicopter N108SC

Note: An earlier version of this article was posted to Oakland Privacy.

May 162020
 

According to a $60,000 grant the Novato Police Department recently received from the Bay Area Urban Areas Security Initiative, new automated license plate readers (ALPRs) will be installed on Highway 37 to track terrorists. However, no suspected terrorists have been tracked or identified with Novato’s existing ALPRs, which have been in use since 2012. We asked Novato City Manager Adam McGill for information on how many suspected terrorists had been detected or tracked with Novato’s existing ALPRs. McGill forwarded the request to Novato Police Lieutenant Christopher Jacob, who responded, “According to our records, we have not detected any hot plates […]

Apr 232020
 
San Leandro Punts on Plan for More Surveillance Cameras - for now

On April 21, 2020, the San Leandro City Council was scheduled to consider installing 10 surveillance cameras in areas recommended by the police department. However, the agenda item came the day after San Leandro police shot and killed Steve Taylor at a local Walmart. Publicity surrounding the shooting, including cell phone video from a bystander, led to outrage that may have caused city staff to pull the item off of the agenda. There are already 12 surveillance cameras installed around the city that were originally used for traffic monitoring, but were converted to surveillance cameras and have been used since […]

Mar 302020
 
Vallejo Cites Ferry Terrorism to Get $30,000 Grant for License Plate Readers

The Vallejo Police Department cited ferry terrorism as part of its $30,000 grant application for license plate readers, calling the ferry “a viable threat for a terrorist act.” According to the grant application, the “Grant Funds will be utilized to establish an ALPR [Automated License Plate Reader] camera system for eastbound and westbound traffic lanes approaching the Ferry Terminal, Ferry Terminal Parking Structure and waterfront.” The Vallejo Police Department already has a network of license plate readers in locations around the city. Two of Vallejo’s ALPRs can be found on a pole on the west side of Glen Cove Road, […]

Mar 212020
 
Vallejo to Spend $766,018 for Cell Site Simulator

On the consent agenda for the March 24, 2020, Vallejo City Council meeting is $766,018 to purchase a KeyW cell site simulator. If approved, Vallejo Police would become the fourth local Bay Area law enforcement agency with this device, after the San Francisco Police Department, San Jose Police Department, and the Alameda County District Attorney (which shares its device with the Oakland Police Department and Fremont Police Department). These other agencies own cell site simulators manufactured by Harris Corporation. The agenda item includes implementation of a usage and privacy policy, but no policy was provided as part of the background […]

Aug 142019
 
Alameda County Sheriff to Get New Cell Phone Unlocking Tool

Although the Alameda County Sheriff already had a Cellebrite cell phone extraction device it purchased in 2018 for more than $200,000, the Sheriff was recently awarded $30,000 to acquire GrayKey, which has similar functionality. The Paul Coverdell Forensic Science Improvement Program grant is funded by the National Institute of Justice, the research, development and evaluation agency of the U.S. Department of Justice. The grant requires that the money be spent by December 31, 2019. Acceptance of the grant was approved by the Alameda County Board of Supervisors on July 9, 2019. The grant lists $30,000 for the “GrayKey Forensic Encryption […]

Jun 112019
 
Local Fusion Center Collecting 80 Million License Plate Records Annually

According to information released in response to a public records request, the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center collected more than 79.2 million license plate reader records from 32 local law enforcement agencies from June 2018 to May 2019. Piedmont, a city with about 11,000 people, sent the most data to NCRIC, with more than 22.4 million license plate reader records, which include license plate numbers and photographs of vehicles and their surroundings. Piedmont has more than 30 stationary license plate readers that capture nearly all traffic coming into and out of Piedmont. In calendar year 2018, Piedmont collected 21.6 million […]

Mar 172019
 
California Police Training Videos

The California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) produces training materials for law enforcement agencies in California. Videos are available in DVD format to law enforcement agencies for $99. Through the beauty of the California Public Records Act, below are some of the POST training videos and other police training videos. Twenty-one training videos from the California Highway Patrol were withheld under California Government Code ยง 6254 (f) because they were “for Department and/or law enforcement viewing only.” Body Worn Cameras, January 2016 – Description Bias Based Policing: Remaining Fair & Impartial, September 2014 – Description Homelessness and […]

Aug 042018
 

Many protesters observed the use of multiple drones at the West Contra Costa County Detention Center on June 30, 2018, during a protest against ICE and its practice of family separation. Journalist Darwin BondGraham wrote about this in an East Bay Express article on July 3, 2018. Documents released in response to a public records request indicated that the drone was also flown over the June 26, 2018, protest at the same facility. The Contra Costa County Sheriff’s drone (or unmanned aerial vehicle/system) program was started in 2016. The agency purchased its first drone on September 7, 2016, a DJI […]

Jul 092018
 
Alameda County District Attorney Has Cell Phone Unlocking Tool

The Alameda County District Attorney has had a tool for unlocking cell phones since at least 2016. The tool is made by Cellebrite, an Israeli company, that markets tools for extracting data from cell phones to governments, intelligence agencies, and law enforcement agencies. According to a February 2018 Forbes article, Cellebrite can reportedly unlock iPhones up to and including the iPhone X running iOS 11.2.6. However, Apple introduced USB restricted mode in iOS 11.4.1 on July 9, 2018, which may impact Cellebrite’s ability to break into locked iPhones. The difficulty of law enforcement in obtaining access to locked iPhones has […]