LAPD Adds Advanced Surveillance Aerial Drones to Law Enforcement Tools

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The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) recently acquired two advanced surveillance aerial devices from the Seattle Police Department to bolster their law enforcement resources. However, the LAPD is deliberating not calling them “drones,” even though that is exactly what they are, to avoid stirring up any controversy based on the negative connotations associated with the word and the technology.

Many Americans feel that the Obama Administration’s use of drones to target not just terrorists but also Americans on foreign soil deemed “enemy combatants” is unconstitutional and even immoral because of the collateral damage to innocent civilians. In addition, the use of such high-tech surveillance on American soil may give the impression that “authorities” are spying on U.S. citizens – even those who are not engaged in any criminal activity.

There has already been criticism for surreptitious aerial surveillance tactics in Los Angeles County, albeit with a plane and not a drone, in 2012. For nine days, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department used a single engine Cessna aircraft equipped with wide-angle cameras to run surveillance on the city of Compton – streaming the images back to the department. Neither the citizens of Compton nor the city leaders were aware that such surveillance was being conducted and the trust and rights of Compton’s residents was violated. After that incident, the mayor of Compton initiated a “citizen protection privacy policy” that requires prior notification of surveillance plans.

The drone model acquired by the LAPD is the Draganflyer X6 small Unmanned Aerial System (sUAS). The high-tech device is approximately three feet wide and is well known for its use by professional photographers. It is equipped with two high definition Sony 20.1 megapixel cameras. According to DraganFly Innovations, the company that manufactures the technology, these cameras deliver a “high percentage of razor sharp” images and have infrared night vision capabilities.

Aerial photos taken by the DraganFlyer X6

The LAPD has taken great pains to be as up front as possible about not only their acquisition of the drones but also the circumstances in which they could potentially be used. These circumstances, which the LAPD describe as “narrow” could include situations where the use of aerial surveillance drones might help prevent “imminent bodily harm” or help to resolve a hostage situation. As the drones have the ability to access the inside of buildings that contain armed suspects, the technology could be instrumental in providing critical information while reducing the risk of loss of life.

DronesAccording to the LAPD, despite the recent acquisition of the advanced surveillance drones the decision to deploy them has not yet been confirmed pending review by the Board of Police Commissioners. Public sentiment will also be taken into consideration as well as input from the LAPD itself. Commander Andrew Smith of the LAPD has indicated that they are not trying to “sneak” the drones into action and that the department is considering using them “down the road.” However, it is interesting to note that the drones were given to the LAPD by the Seattle Police Department (SPD) because of the vocal and vociferous opposition to the surveillance program by the citizens of Seattle who raised serious concerns about their rights to privacy. Those concerns caused the SPD to ground their drone program. It is likely that citizens in Los Angeles will have similar concerns over the LAPD’s use of advanced surveillance aerial drones, even if they are to be used only as a law enforcement tool and not to “spy” on everyday citizens.

By Alana Marie Burke


Los Angeles Times
LA Weekly
The Washington Post
The Seattle Times

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