LAPD Gets Approval To Unleash Drone Program As Protesters Take To The Streets

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 after a public outcry.

But, 'if at first you don't succeed, try, try again' seems to be the motto for the LAPD which, after 3 years of patiently waiting, finally received approval from a civilian oversight committee to unleash its drone program on the general public.  Per the LA Times:

After months of often-heated debate, a civilian oversight panel Tuesday signed off on a yearlong test of drones by the Los Angeles Police Department, which will become the largest police department in the nation to deploy the controversial technology.


The Police Commission’s 3-1 vote prompted jeers, cursing and a small protest that spilled into a downtown intersection just outside the LAPD’s glass headquarters — evidence of the opposition police have faced in recent weeks as they tried to reassure wary residents that the airborne devices would not be misused.


The use of drones — or “small Unmanned Aerial Systems,” in police-speak — has become a contentious issue for law enforcement in Los Angeles, where the nation’s largest sheriff’s department has flown one since January.


LAPD brass, along with police commissioners, tried to ease those concerns by promising careful restrictions on when the drones would be used and strong oversight of the pilot program. Weapons and facial-recognition technology will also be prohibited.


The debate over whether the LAPD should use drones began in 2014, when the department received two Draganflyer X6 drones from police in Seattle — devices the Washington agency unloaded after heavy criticism from the public. The outcry continued in L.A., and the drones were grounded — and ultimately destroyed — before they were ever flown.

Now, just three years later, Commissioner Cynthia McClain-Hill was the only person to cast a dissenting vote on the Police Commission's controversial 3-1 vote to proceed with the drone program.

Commissioner Cynthia McClain-Hill, who cast the sole vote against the drone program Tuesday, asked Beck about his comments three years ago and why he thought now was a good time to revisit the issue. He pointed to the wider use of drones by other agencies and what he described as a “much more robust feedback mechanism” this time around.


Many in the audience jeered.


“I know that all of you think that the process means nothing to me, but that is not true,” Beck told the crowd. “Are we going to agree in the end? Maybe not. But I will have heard you.”


McClain-Hill, though, said she believed the LAPD failed to do “what it should do and needs to do in order to build the trust that is required to support the implementation of this technology.”

But LA residents shouldn't worry too much because the LAPD promises that the drones will be under strict limitations and will never be used for illegal searches or anything of the sort.

Johnson was joined by two other commissioners — Sandra Figueroa-Villa and President Steve Soboroff — who said they believed the policy offered strict limitations and enough oversight to allow the one-year test to proceed.


Under those rules, only SWAT officers will be allowed to fly drones during a handful of specific, high-risk situations. They can also be used during search and rescue operations, or when looking for armed suspects who have “superior firepower,” an “extraordinary tactical advantage” or who are suspected of shooting at an officer.


Each flight must be approved by a high-ranking officer. Any request to fly a drone — whether approved or not — will be documented and reviewed. The Police Commission will also receive quarterly reports that will be made public.


At the end of the yearlong program, commissioners will review how the drones were used and decide whether to continue.

That said, Jim Lafferty of the National Lawyers Guild Los Angeles does make a good point:

“Mission creep is of course the concern.  The history of this department is of starting off with supposedly good intentions about the new toys that it gets … only to then get too tempted by what they can do with those toys.”