LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) – Three years after it acquired a pair of drones that it chose not to deploy in response to protests about potential surveillance uses, the Los Angeles Police Department Tuesday morning took its first step towards a drone pilot program.
LAPD Assistant Chief Beatrice Girmala presented the department’s plan for a pilot program for limited use of drones to the Board of Police Commissioners, which was not required to vote on the pilot program Tuesday and took no action.
Girmala said the department plans to hold a series of public meetings to get feedback on the program, then draft official guidelines before bringing the pilot program back to the commissioners for approval.
Two organizations, the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition and the Drone- Free LAPD/No Drones, LA! Campaign, held a protest and news conference prior to the commissioners meeting.
The LAPD’s move comes weeks after a majority of the Los Angeles County Sheriff Civilian Oversight commissioners voted they wanted Sheriff Jim McDonnell to stop flying a drone used in law enforcement operations, and as local organizations continue to express concerns about law enforcement drones.
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 chief in 2014 also defended accepting the drones, and said such devices are already being used by private citizens, businesses and sports teams.
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Even if the drones are initially confined to narrow uses, they could easily undergo “mission creep” and be used to invade the privacy of the city’s residents, according to some of the groups opposed to them.
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 on the potential program addressed the issue of privacy concerns and said the devices would not be used to monitor or provide surveillance for law enforcement.
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