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LAPD Wants To Start Using Surveillance Drones

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The LAPD has begun steps to introduce surveillance drones into its law enforcement activities.

The department was gifted two Draganflyer X6 drones by the Seattle Police Department in 2014. The SPD gave the drones after Seattle residents contested their usage. Since then, the LAPD has left the drones locked in the office of the Inspector General, unused, notes the Los Angeles Times.

However, on Tuesday, the department will present to the Police Commission a "powerpoint and discussion relative to a proposal for a pilot program for limited tactical deployment of an Unmanned Aerial System."

"I will not sacrifice public support for a piece of police equipment," LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said a week after receiving the two gifted drones in 2014, reports the Times. "We're going to thoroughly vet the public's opinion on the use of the aerial surveillance platforms."

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"Since [2014,] the Mayor and the LA Police Commission have been completely silent and have not responded to any requests on the status of the Draganflyer X6 Drones," says an email statement sent on Tuesday morning by the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition. "They continue to ignore and dismiss community demands to prevent LAPD from using Drones. This is unacceptable. While the whole country is demanding an end to police militarization, a concerted effort to add military style drone technology to LAPD’s vast arsenal of tactical weapons is underway."

In January, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department introduced an "unmanned aircraft system" [a remote-controlled drone] for use in various rescue and hazardous-scenario operations.

“The dangers of law enforcement can never be eliminated,” Sheriff McDonnell said at the time, according to a department release. “However, this technology can assist us in reducing the impact of risks on personnel and allow us to perform operations to enhance public safety.”

Then, in late July, the Sheriff Department's Civilian Oversight commissioners deadlocked in a 4-4 vote over the set of guidelines for how the department should manage the drone. The commission was unable to comment to LAist about whether a deadlock vote meant granting or denying authorization. According to the Times, several of the commissioners who voted against the guidelines expressed desire to abandon the drone program entirely.

According to the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, one of the main concerns of enabling drone usage for both the LAPD and LASD is future "mission creep"—or the expansion of drone usage over time.

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"We reject the use of these drones because what you have, even in this policy document, is gaping holes for mission creep," Hamid Khan of the coalition said, notes City News Service. "So the issue is not if, but when, and we have seen that happen over and over again.''

According to the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College, as of April, "[a]t least 347 state and local police, sheriff, fire, and emergency units in the U.S. have acquired drones," while "[c]onsumer drones are more common among public safety units than specialized professional drones."

In a Tweet, Kate Mather of the Los Angeles Times reported that LAPD Assistant Chief Bea Girmala told the Commission Tuesday that the department "would like to pursue a 'responsible and limited' one-year pilot program for drone." Girmala continued that "[t]hey will not be weaponized," and SWAT would use the drones with "strict, case-by-case approval." Mather adds that the department will look to use the drones in "standoffs, hostage situations, to examine suspicious packages, [and to] find victims of active shooters."

In June, the Los Angeles City Council Public Safety committee approved plans by the Los Angeles Fire Department to use drones for fire and rescue operations. The proposal now awaits a vote by the full City Council.

The Police Commission was unavailable for immediate comment to LAist regarding the department's presentation over drone usage.