Los Angeles Police Commissioners approve drone program

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Drones could soon dot the skies over Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Police Commission Tuesday gave their approval for the Los Angeles Police Department’s first unmanned aircraft program, eliciting outcry from privacy advocates across the Southland and praise from law enforcement officials.

The Small Unmanned Aerial Systems Program (sUAS) spent the past year in testing, with an emphasis on situations where drones can help with de-escalation, and in hazardous material responses. During the test year, incident commanders called for the use of drones six times, but they were deployed only four times. The devices gave officers better views of suspects who were believed to be armed at the time, according to a report from LAPD Chief Michel Moore.

According to department officials, formal guidelines for drone usage will be written and reviewed over the next 75 days, at which point the commission will vote to finalize program policies.

“Overall, the deployment [of a drone program] would enhance the department’s ability to protect and serve the public,” Moore wrote in his report.

Michel’s report also said the program would save the department money, estimating that between $2,800 and $3,800 was saved each of the four times a drone was deployed over the past year. The department has four drones, some of which can be used indoors.

The department program will require a SWAT lieutenant to request the use of the drones from a captain, according to LAPD officials. The department will be allowed to fly the drones at night with a standing waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Despite LAPD assurances the drones won’t be used to violate Angeleno privacy, activists with the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition condemned the use of drones, saying that potential for drone surveillance is cause enough for concern.

“Among several things proposed, LAPD is expanding the scope of drone use for high-risk warrants,” the Coalition said in a statement. “LAPD is upgrading the drones for longer flight times, (to) cover longer distances, install spotlights … and infra-red and thermal sensors. LAPD is expanding the drone capacity to fly indoors with no light, which means they will be flying them into our homes and other private spaces.”

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