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Police agencies across the county, state and nation have drawn intense scrutiny for the ways in which they’ve responded to recent protests, including by deploying violent force.

But, as VOSD contributor Jared Whitlock reveals in a new story, local police agencies are responding in another way, too: They’re deploying drones to protests to keep tabs on who’s there and what’s unfolding

The Carlsbad Police Department and Escondido Police Department both acknowledged using drones to monitor protests over police violence. Other departments declined to say whether they were using drones; some said they had not.

But the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department adopted a new policy in January allowing it to send drones to protests in which it believes there’s “substantiated potential” for civil unrest or criminal activity.

“While law enforcement agencies are eager for a birds-eye view of protests, using drones in this way comes at a time of heightened anxiety over police power, as well as fears of technology stifling people’s right to protest,” Whitlock writes.

Some experts also cast doubt on the departments’ efforts to meaningfully engage the public before adopting policies guiding how drones will surveil communities.

Council Resists ‘Defund’ Police Calls, Creates Racial Equity Office

The San Diego City Council created a new Office of Racial Equity late Monday as it adopted a budget that cut the city’s general fund by nearly 10 percent during a tumultuous time in city history.

The Council’s vote came after nearly 12 hours of public comment, the overwhelming majority calling in to urge the city to cut $100 million from the San Diego Police Department’s nearly $600 million budget, a sudden show of support for the “Defund the Police” movement that has emerged since police brutality protests broke out in San Diego and across the country following George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.

The Council did seriously not contemplate that request. It did maintain core city services – areas like library hours, tree trimming and pothole filling – beyond what Mayor Kevin Faulconer proposed in his budget.

And while the Council did not explore a significant cut – or any cut, even – to SDPD’s budget, it did find funding for two new areas that Council members said could address concerns over systemic racism in the city.

Councilwoman Monica Montgomery championed the idea of an Office of Racial Equity, a new group in the city that could work among departments to address structural inequality. It would also control a $3 million fund that it could invest in communities or use to partner with nonprofit groups working in racial justice. The Council funded it with a small cut to expected contracts for outside firms next year.

And Council President Georgette Gomez put forward the idea for a new, $1.5 million outreach program to help homeless people not through law enforcement but through “compassionate care,” as Gomez said. It was funded through a cut to the city’s automobile needs.

The Council’s budget also included $15 million in rental relief for residents directly impacted by COVID-19.

The Council approved the budget on an 8-1 vote, with only Councilman Chris Ward voting against it. He tweeted afterwards that he voted against the budget because it didn’t allocate enough for rental or small business assistance.

But the nearly 12 hours of public comment was driven overwhelmingly by over 450 public commenters who requested a $100 million cut to the police budget. No one on the Council took up the request – or proposed any cut to the SDPD budget at all. SDPD accounted for 37 percent of general fund spending in the budget, up from 34 percent last year. The demanded cut would have brought SDPD spending to 33 percent of the city’s general fund.

Montgomery, though, told those callers she was sympathetic to their request and open to reconsidering SDPD’s role in the city.

“I do want everyone to know that I really do believe that we need to look at the way we provide public safety,” she said. “I think our officers are charged to do too many things and over the long term we need to look at reallocation, and allowing officers to do what they were originally charged to do. There are examples across the nation. But I really want to see what that looks like and have a plan for it.”

Speaking of Policing and Protests …

Tijuana’s Ambulance Shortage? There’s an App for That

On top of being slammed with coronavirus cases, Tijuana has a pre-existing condition making its response even harder: It doesn’t have close to enough ambulances. 

But an app created for Tijuana’s Cruz Roja with the help of the University of California, San Diego that sought to make more efficient use of the city’s ambulances is coming in handy, and researchers are hoping to make updates to make the app even more useful in dealing with the pandemic, VOSD’s Maya Srikrishnan reports in the latest Border Report.

“For example, they’ve added an ability to communicate with hospitals that a likely coronavirus case is on its way in an ambulance.They are also working to add other features, including a video conferencing ability and a dashboard that would help track and visualize calls made related to coronavirus, [Mauricío de Oliveria, a program adviser for the project] said.”

In Other News

The Morning Report was written by Sara Libby and Andrew Keatts, and edited by Scott Lewis.

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