The general concern over police spying has been addressed vigorously by the Los Angeles public for many years. As I covered in early 2015, public concern heightened even further when the LAPD acquired drones from the Seattle PD and began to discuss guidelines for implementation.
An organization called Stop LAPD Spying Coalition was formed specifically to document their resistance to secret drone surveillance. The group condemned the police commission as “an affront to the principles of democracy,” after the commission closed a session to the public and refused to allow comment on police proposals.
The LAPD subsequently appeared to address the pushback by not employing the two Draganflyer X6 drones. At the time, the LAPD stated in no uncertain terms that the public must be in agreement with their use:
“If we do deploy these, not sure we ever will, it’ll be based on a strict set of written guidelines approved by the police commission,” said Cmdr. Andy Smith. “Absent approval from the police commission and public acceptance, we’re not going to use them. Chief Beck said if it compromises public trust, we won’t use them.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, the debate is heating up once again.
On Tuesday, the LAPD again waded into the heated debate, as department brass proposed testing an “unmanned aerial system” during a one-year pilot program.
Assistant Chief Beatrice Girmala told the Police Commission that the idea was to use a small drone to help officers during certain types of incidents, such as and reports of potential bombs or active shooters. The devices, she said, could help gather crucial information as such situations unfold, without putting officers at risk.
The LAPD would draw up clear guidelines before flying the drone and each use would require the approval of a high-ranking department official, she said.
What appears to be absent, according to this new report, is the previously explicit deference given to “public acceptance,” now stressing their intention to push ahead with “approval from a high-ranking department official” under “narrow and prescribed uses.”
This is still not sitting well with privacy activists who feel as though appeals to limited hostage and rescue or terrorist situations are merely an entry point for the expanded use of drone surveillance of the general public in the future.
“We’ve just hit the tip of the iceberg,” he [Dan Gettinger, codirector of the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College] said. “The systems are going to evolve, and that’s going to bring with them questions about how they’re going to be used.”
“We’re going to fight it to the very end,” said Jamie Garcia, a member of the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, one of the department’s most vocal critics. “Just drop the idea. It’s not going to happen.”
Public trust in the LAPD has been steadily eroded for a very long time, as the agency has a history of outright abuse and secret surveillance programs. Perhaps in addition to the residents of Los Angeles, this will spark a much-needed countrywide debate as more than 350 public safety departments across the nation have acquired drones in some capacity.
If you are among those who are troubled by the increased prevalence of police drones, The Electronic Frontier Foundation has put together a list of drone questions for your local police department and a convenient method for reporting your findings to the Foundation. Once submitted they can help guide you through the proper channels of government in order to formally protest any plans to use drone surveillance in your area.
See LA Times Video: Should Police Use Drones?
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