The California Police Chiefs Association has recognized the Chula Vista Police Department for its first-in-the-nation "drones as first responders" program.

The police chiefs group last week awarded the Chula Vista drone program its 2019 CPCA & Motorola Technology Innovation Award, recognizing the South Bay police agency for its "superior achievement and innovation in the field of technology."

Chula Vista police began using drones to respond to 911 calls in October when it launched an experimental program that is part of a nationwide pilot program being overseen by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Chula Vista's drones are mostly deployed as first responders during business hours between Mondays and Thursdays, responding to certain 911 calls within a one-mile radius and eyesight of department headquarters.

According to statistics updated daily on the Chula Vista Police Department's website, drones responded to emergency calls on more than 320 occasions since Oct. 22.

Drones were the first on scene 139 times, and their deployment negated the need for patrol officers to respond to calls 37 times. The average response time, as of Thursday, was about 1 minute and 56 seconds.

Calls to which drones responded resulted in 44 arrests.

Chula Vista police, in partnership with the city of San Diego, was elected as one of 10 cities or agencies around the country last year to take part in the U.S. Department of Transportation's Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program.

The participating government agencies and their commercial partners were chosen to push the limits of commercial drone testing in real-world environments. The program is also meant to help the FAA develop ground rules for commercial drone use across the country.

While other law enforcement agencies around the country can use drones, Chula Vista is the only police department in the nation approved to use the technology as first responders for emergency calls.

(c)2019 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.