CC Drone Pilot Program Still Flying High

Culver City's unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or drone pilot program is off to a flying start.

In the past 22 months, the Culver City Police and Fire Departments have used drones 50 times in perimeter searches for felony suspects, fires and crime scene operations, among other uses, according to police officials. The use of drones with high-powered cameras is becoming common place for police and fire agencies across the county.

At its recent meeting, the Culver City Council discussed a report on the UAV pilot program, which has cost $107,000 so far, and approved a staff request for $13,000 to continue its operation for the next 14 months.

Most councilmembers were supportive of the program and the "evidentiary value of drone footage" but some wanted staff to provide more "detailed data on drone usage for more transparency."

Proposed and formed in 2019, the drone program assist first responders address rapidly unfolding emergency incidents. It was instrumental in the arrest of 20 suspects, city officials said.

The drones were used 24 times for perimeter search for armed and/or felony suspects, 6 times for crime scene operation (including shooting and traffic accidents), 4 times for fires, one time for disaster management (bomb threat) and 15 times for support search/arrest warrant operation, according to police officials.

The city currently has 8 drones – which cost $85,687 – and 16 drone pilots on staff, all of whom are licensed through the FAA.

"Although we often have pilots on duty when a UAV is needed, there are times when a pilot is called in from home on overtime or held over their regular work hours on overtime for emergency incidents," the report said. The total overtime cost for the 22-month pilot program was $33,075.

The program, including the drones, pilot training and pilot overtime, will cost $120,266 through next year, city officials said.

A monthly UAV utilization log is published in the Culver City Police Department's Monthly Report, which can be viewed at


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