The LAPD first toyed with the idea of ramping up its public spying safety program with the introduction of drones back in May 2014. At that time, the LAPD announced it had acquired two "unmanned aerial vehicles" as gifts from the Seattle Police Department, Draganflyer X6 aircraft to be exact, after a public outcry in Seattle grounded the controversial program. Unfortunately, or perhaps not, LA's drone efforts quickly met the same fate as Seattle's. Per the Los Angeles Times:
The LAPD’s dance with drones began in 2014, when the department received two Draganflyer X6 drones from police in Seattle — drones the Washington agency unloaded after heavy criticism from the public. Although the LAPD said it would deploy the drones for “narrow and prescribed uses,” civil liberties advocates questioned their use in even a limited fashion.
Less than a week after getting the drones, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said he would not fly the unmanned aircraft until the department had sought public feedback as well as approval from the Police Commission.
“I will not sacrifice public support for a piece of police equipment,” Beck said at the time.
The drones were then locked away in the office of the LAPD’s inspector general. Department officials said the move was a response to public perception and federal laws limiting use of the unmanned aircraft.
Now, some three years later, it seems that the LAPD is ready to give it's mass public spying effort another try...
On Tuesday, the LAPD will again wade into the heated debate, as department brass are slated to present details to the Police Commission about a possible pilot program for an “unmanned aerial system.”
The commission’s agenda said the pitch was for “limited tactical deployment” of a drone, but did not elaborate.
Earlier this year, L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell announced his agency’s plans to use a $10,000 drone to help deputies responding to arson scenes, suspected bombs and hostage situations. McDonnell said the drone would not be used in surveillance but could provide critical information from previously inaccessible vantage points.
But, while populations do tend to become more comfortable with technology over time, apparently 3 years hasn't been enough time for the citizens of LA to decide they're now willing to give up their civil liberties.
Before the meeting, roughly three dozen activists from various groups — including the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, Black Lives Matter and Los Angeles Community Action Network — stood outside the LAPD’s downtown headquarters, denouncing the use of drones by police.
The Police Commission should “completely reject LAPD’s latest attempt to revive its drone program,” said Hamid Khan, founder of the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, an anti-surveillance group that frequently criticizes the LAPD.
”L.A. does not need further militarization by the LAPD,” said Paula Minor, an activist with Black Lives Matter.
Civil liberties advocates expressed concern over privacy as well as what they described as a lack of public input in the sheriff’s abrupt announcement. The Stop LAPD Spying Coalition staged a protest blasting the department’s use of drones.
Of course, as the LA Times notes, drones are already used by some 350 municipal agencies around the country...though we would be intrigued to know whether or not the public was asked for their opinion on those programs before they were deployed...
Drones have been hailed by law enforcement across the country as a crucial technology that can help find missing hikers or monitor armed suspects without jeopardizing the safety of officers. But efforts to adopt the unmanned aircraft have frequently drawn fierce criticism from privacy advocates for whom the devices stir Orwellian visions of inappropriate — or illegal — surveillance or fears of military-grade, weaponized drones patrolling the skies.
Almost 350 public safety departments in the U.S. have acquired drones, nearly half of them last year, according to a study Gettinger’s center published earlier this year. Many of those drones are no more advanced than those used by hobbyists, he said.
Some agencies have adopted the technology without much public reaction. Still, Gettinger said, skeptics have expressed apprehension not just about how police use drones today, but how they might use the technology in the future.
“We’ve just hit the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “The systems are going to evolve, and that’s going to bring with them questions about how they’re going to be used.”
But we're sure it's fine, people in positions of power rarely abuse their power...