Published on: Friday, May 20, 2022

For the last five years, driverless car companies have been testing their vehicles on public roads. These vehicles constantly roam neighborhoods while laden with a variety of sensors including video cameras capturing everything going on around them to operate safely and analyze instances where they don't (article available here).

While the companies themselves tout the potential transportation benefits their services may one day offer, they don’t publicize another use case, one that is far less hypothetical: Mobile surveillance cameras for police departments.

“Autonomous vehicles are recording their surroundings continuously and have the potential to help with investigative leads,” says a San Francisco Police department training document obtained via a public records request. “Investigations has already done this several times.”  

The document is a three-page guide for how officers should interact with autonomous vehicles (AVs), especially ones that have no human driver inside. It outlines basic procedures such as how to interact with the vehicles (”Do not open the vehicle for non-emergency issues” and ”Do not pull vehicles over unless a legitimate law enforcement action exists”) as well as whether to issue a citation for a moving violation for a car with no human driver (”No citation can be issued at this time if the vehicle has no one in the driver’s seat” but an incident report should be written instead). And the section titled “Investigations” has two bullet points advising officers of their usefulness in collecting footage.