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News

Controversial LAPD Drone Pilot Program Approved, Several Detained At Protest Following Commission Meeting

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A civilian panel that oversees the Los Angeles Police Department voted 3-to-1 Tuesday to approve a controversial drone pilot program, despite protests from many civil rights groups.

The Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners had previously approved guidelines for the proposed one-year pilot program at a meeting two weeks ago. The board then published the guidelines to their website and invited additional feedback from the public before making their final vote today. Only 6 percent of the 1,675 emails the department received about the proposed program were in support of it, according to City News Service.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, and Black Lives Matter Los Angeles have all spoken out against program, with ACLU SoCal writing in a letter to the commission that the proposed program “poses serious risks to the privacy and civil rights of Los Angeles residents,” according to the L.A. Times.

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ACLU staff attorney Melanie Ochoa voiced particular concern about potential LAPD "mission creep" in an interview with the Times, saying “there’s nothing that stops [LAPD's list of when the drones can be used] from being expanded.”

Under the proposed rules, the drones would be used in a limited capacity for high-risk tactical operations, barricaded armed suspect responses, hostage rescues and situations involving explosive devices or hazardous materials. They would not be weaponized, or used for general surveillance. Any deployment would also have to be approved on a case-by-case basis. In an October 13 letter to the Board, LAPD Police Chief Charlie Beck described the drone program as an "additional tool to de-escalate volatile tactical situations while reducing harm to the public, officers and to suspects."

Protesters also gathered before and after the commission to voice their dissent:

LAPD public information officer Tony Im told LAist that several protesters were detained for blocking traffic at the intersection of 1st Street and Main in downtown Los Angeles following the commission meeting.

"It was an unlawful assembly. They did not have permits," Im said. It's not yet known how many of those individuals, if any, were formally arrested.