San Diego County, CA Sheriff's Department Drone Documents

Drone Watch filed this request with the San Diego Police Department of San Diego County, CA.
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From: Drone Watch

To Whom It May Concern:

Pursuant to the California's Sunshine Amendment (Cal. Const. Art. I, § 3(b)), I hereby request the following records:

1. any requests for proposals, proposals submitted by vendors, contracts, budgets or cost allocations for the purchase and/or use of aerial drones, UAs, UAVs, and UASs (hereinafter “drones”);

2. any policies, guidelines, manuals and/or instructions on department use of drones, including on the legal process required (such as a warrant or court order), if any, before operating a drone;

3. any departmental records concerning this department’s use of drones now or plans to use drones in the future including:

a. the types of investigations or instances in which this department is using or plans to use drones, or how it plans to support, manage or oversee the usage of drones by another department or office;

b. policies, guidelines, manuals and/or instructions on storage requirements or procedures for video or static images obtained through use of drones, including retention times;

c. the altitude at which drones can or do fly;

d. drones’ ability to carry weapons.

I also request that, if appropriate, fees be waived as I believe this request is in the public interest. The requested documents will be made available to the general public free of charge as part of the public information service at, processed by a representative of the news media/press and is made in the process of news gathering and not for commercial usage.

In the event that fees cannot be waived, I would be grateful if you would inform me of the total charges in advance of fulfilling my request. I would prefer the request filled electronically, by e-mail attachment if available or CD-ROM if not.

Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation in this matter. I look forward to receiving your response to this request within 10 business days, as the statute requires.


Brandon Wieber

From: Toyen, Sanford

Dear Sir:

This letter is in response to your email to the San Diego County Sheriff's Department, dated July 12, 2012.

We understand you request to be seeking records pertaining to aerial drones such as those used by the U.S. military, and which simultaneously transmit video or photographic data.

The San Diego County Sheriff's Department has no records that are responsive to your request.

From: Shawn Musgrave


MuckRock has received a sales quotation from Datron World Communications, Inc. dated 28 July 2011 for an unmanned aerial reconnaissance system (aka, a drone). The customer is listed as Sgt. Richard Williams of the San Diego County Sheriff's Dept., Special Investigations Division.

Please confirm whether the San Diego Sheriff's Department has purchased or utilized the drone system for which we have the sales quotation, or any other drone/UAV systems. Additionally, please confirm that the San Diego Sheriff's Department has no further responsive documents for the entirety of our original request for records, reprinted below.

Shawn Musgrave

From: San Diego County Sheriff's Department

From: Drone Watch

Dear Mr. Toyen:

MuckRock is in receipt of your September 13, 2012 letter. What is the appeal agency for the San Diego County Sheriff's Department? Please include relevant contact information, if possible.

Best regards,
Shawn Musgrave

From: Toyen, Sanford

Dear Mr. Musgrave:

There is no "appeal agency" for appealing CPRA responses by the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.

Nonetheless, I'm not sure I understand what you're hoping to "appeal". We don't have records that are responsive to your request.

Am I misunderstanding something?

From: Drone Watch

Mr. Toyen:

I apologize, I meant the appeal contact for public records requests for the Sheriff's Department. Could

We intend to appeal because your "decline to comment" response is unsatisfactory.

I have attached a copy of the sales quote for an aerial drone that MuckRock received last month. It is clearly prepared for the San Diego County Sheriff's Department, and as such constitutes a responsive document MuckRock has reason to believe exists.

MuckRock has also received emails from the sales manager of Datron World Communications, Inc., the manufacturer that prepared the sales quote, suggesting that San Diego County Sheriff's Department officers visited Datron facilities in the first half of 2011, tested Datron drone systems and even left with a flashdrive of footage from test flights. This footage would also represent a responsive document which MuckRock already has reason to believe exists.

In light of these documents already in MuckRock's possession, I hereby request once again any documents related to UAVs/drones, including but not limited to email correspondence, memos, reports, video footage, sales quotes and contracts. Please include all documents related to Datron World Communications, Inc. in particular.

Please let me know if I can further clarify any of the above. I would be happy to pass along the above referenced email, as well, if that would assist you in locating responsive documents.

Shawn Musgrave

From: Toyen, Sanford

Dear Mr. Musgrave:

I received the email containing the sales quote attachment.

Because the San Diego County Sheriff's Department has no "drone" equipment, it was very difficult to track down who, in the Department, may be in possession of documents pertaining to drone equipment. With no information to assist me, I went to those units that I believed would be most likely to have made an inquiry about the purchase of a drone unit. It was not until I received your copy of the sales quote that I was able to contact those who had knowledge of the sales quote. I am relating this to you so that if/when you make a Public Records Act request in the future, you may wish to consider assisting the agency in responding to your request by sharing such information with them. Doing so in this case would have allowed us to respond more quickly and accurately to your initial request.

SDSO does not maintain drones, nor are we in the process of acquiring them. The sales quote that you obtained reflects an inquiry as to the type of drone equipment that is available to public safety agencies, the cost, and the expected performance. After making this inquiry, SDSO chose not to purchase drones.

The San Diego County Sheriff's Department is always looking at ways to make its law enforcement operations more effective, efficient, and safe. Towards this end, our employees frequently make inquiries into the market to see what new and/or upgraded equipment exists that would aid in the department's mission. Some of these inquiries result in equipment purchases, while many others do not.

The Public Records Act does not require a law enforcement agency to publicize every inquiry it makes regarding the possible purchase of equipment, particularly those inquiries that do not result in an equipment purchase. A law enforcement agency must be free to gather information and weigh alternatives in confidence before arriving at a course of action. Moreover, there is very little public benefit in the release of such records, especially a video of a drone flight that did not result in an equipment purchase.

For this reason, your request for records pertaining to any testing of drone equipment is denied pursuant to Government Code section 6254(k) and 6255, on the grounds that any information and/or records obtained by the Sheriff's Department are protected by the Deliberative Process privilege, as well as the Official Information privilege (Evidence Code section 1040). As to the remainder of your request, the Sheriff's Department has no responsive documents.

From: Shawn Musgrave

Mr. Toyen:

Thank you for your response and help with this records request. I would like to request further clarification of your denial.

In your last email, you quoted several sections of California law relevant to public records requests: Government Code section 6254(k), Government Code section 6255 and Evidence Code 1040.

Government Code section 6254(k) reads as follows:

6254. Except as provided in Sections 6254.7 and 6254.13, nothing in
this chapter shall be construed to require disclosure of records
that are any of the following:


(k) Records, the disclosure of which is exempted or prohibited
pursuant to federal or state law, including, but not limited to,
provisions of the Evidence Code relating to privilege.

Government Code Section 6255 reads as follows:

6255. (a) The agency shall justify withholding any record by
demonstrating that the record in question is exempt under express
provisions of this chapter or that on the facts of the particular
case the public interest served by not disclosing the record clearly
outweighs the public interest served by disclosure of the record.
(b) A response to a written request for inspection or copies of
public records that includes a determination that the request is
denied, in whole or in part, shall be in writing.

Evidence Code section 1040 reads as follows:

1040. (a) As used in this section, "official information" means
information acquired in confidence by a public employee in the course
of his or her duty and not open, or officially disclosed, to the
public prior to the time the claim of privilege is made.
(b) A public entity has a privilege to refuse to disclose official
information, and to prevent another from disclosing official
information, if the privilege is claimed by a person authorized by
the public entity to do so and:
(1) Disclosure is forbidden by an act of the Congress of the
United States or a statute of this state; or
(2) Disclosure of the information is against the public interest
because there is a necessity for preserving the confidentiality of
the information that outweighs the necessity for disclosure in the
interest of justice; but no privilege may be claimed under this
paragraph if any person authorized to do so has consented that the
information be disclosed in the proceeding. In determining whether
disclosure of the information is against the public interest, the
interest of the public entity as a party in the outcome of the
proceeding may not be considered.
(c) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Employment
Development Department shall disclose to law enforcement agencies, in
accordance with the provisions of subdivision (k) of Section 1095
and subdivision (b) of Section 2714 of the Unemployment Insurance
Code, information in its possession relating to any person if an
arrest warrant has been issued for the person for commission of a

In your last email you suggested that "there is very little public benefit in the release of such records" as MuckRock requests. As established by the above provisions, the burden of evidence falls not to demonstrating the public benefit of disclosure, but to demonstrating the injury to public interest that the disclosure would prompt. Furthermore, while your last email invoked Deliberative Process privilege, none of the provisions you quote pertain to deliberative process.

Please specify, then:
(a) how disclosing the requested records related to San Diego County Sheriff's Department inquiries into acquiring drones is against the public interest;
(b) statutory basis for invoking deliberative process privilege.

These exemption arguments notwithstanding, MuckRock is of the opinion that there is considerable public benefit in disclosing the requested documents. Police agencies across the country have expressed interest in acquiring UAV systems. The San Diego County Sheriff's rationale in implementing (or not implementing) drones is of considerable interest not only to citizens in San Diego County, but to people across the country because of the surveillance, data security and privacy issues posed by UAV technology.

For this reason, I respectfully request once again the release of any documents held by the San Diego County Sheriff related to its inquiries into acquiring UAV technology.

Shawn Musgrave
MuckRock News

From: Toyen, Sanford

Dear Mr. Musgrave:

The Sheriff's denial letter of September 26, 2012 meets the requirements of the California Public Records Act. We have explained why we believe the application of Section 6255 is appropriate, and we are not required to engage in an ongoing debate over our assertion of the exemption.

Moreover, I am informed by the employee who obtained the video that he is unable to locate it. Thus, even if the Sheriff were not asserting an exemption, the Sheriff would have nothing responsive to produce.