LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – The civilian panel that oversees the Los Angeles Police Department approved a drone pilot program Tuesday — several months after the department first presented what it called a limited plan to use the technology.
Approval of the program by the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners came despite opposition from activists who consider the technology a threat to civil liberties and after only 6 percent of the 1,675 emails the LAPD received about the program expressed support for it.
During the meeting, several anti-drone protesters blocked traffic outside LAPD headquarters. Just before 1 p.m., officers cleared the intersection and cited some of the protesters for unlawful assembly.
The board held a meeting two weeks ago, when it approved the guidelines for the 1-year pilot program. Now, after posting the guidelines on the department’s website for two weeks and receiving more public feedback, the board voteed on its final approval.
The commission first heard a presentation on the guidelines for the proposed LAPD program in August, and the department held four public meetings to get feedback.
Latest Coverage: The Debate Over Drone Use
Commissioner Cynthia McClain-Hill voted against the program Tuesday, while Commission President Steve Soboroff, Vice President Matthew Johnson and Commissioner Sandra Figueroa-Villa voted for it. Commissioner Shane Murphy Goldsmith was not present for the vote.
A pair of Draganflyer X6 drones were given to the LAPD by Seattle in 2014, but they have never been deployed. Police Chief Charlie Beck said at the time that the drones could be used during tactical events such as manhunts and standoffs. But he also said the department planned to work closely with the American Civil Liberties Union to ensure the drones would not infringe on individual privacy rights.
The LAPD’s pursuit of a pilot program is a reversal of its policy after it abandoned the idea of using drones three years ago in the face of protests from activists.
According to the guidelines the LAPD commission approved, drones would be used in a limited capacity, including high-risk tactical operations, barricaded armed suspect responses, hostage rescues, and situations involving threats of exposure to hazardous materials and the need to detect explosive devices.
The drones will not be weaponized or used during surveillance, and their use will have be approved on a case-by-case basis.
The Los Angeles City Council cleared the way in June for the city’s fire department to begin using drones. A Los Angeles Fire Department report addressed the issue of privacy concerns and said the devices would not be used to monitor or provide surveillance for law enforcement.
In July, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Civilian Oversight Commission voted 5-4 to call for the grounding of the LASD’s drone program, although Sheriff Jim McDonnell said the program would continue.
Members of the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, the Drone-Free LAPD/No Drones, LA! Campaign, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and other civil rights organizations have been vocal about their opposition to the program over concerns that “mission creep” will lead to the devices one day being armed or used for surveillance to infringe on privacy rights.
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