The general concern over police spying continues to be addressed by the Los Angeles public. As I have been covering over the last several years, that concern heightened even further when the LAPD acquired drones from the Seattle PD and began to discuss guidelines for implementation. Despite assurances that any deployment would be only for extreme circumstances, a new donation of $31,500 by the Los Angeles Police Foundation has been approved, continuing the controversy over their eventual use.
The ongoing pilot program made the LAPD the nation’s largest to implement drone testing. Now, according to the Los Angeles Times, 4 drones will be used for training police officers, which is part of the stipulation prior to any final decision about releasing them for ongoing police use:
The donation from the Los Angeles Police Foundation will go toward four drones, Assistant Chief Beatrice Girmala told police commissioners at their weekly meeting Tuesday. Each are from DJI, a tech company specializing in drones with offices worldwide.
Girmala said the LAPD plans to use drones of varying sizes and capabilities: one small-sized, half-pound “Spark” model; two three-pound “Phantom” models; and a “Matrice” model that is the largest, weighing 10 pounds and measuring about 25 inches diagonally.
An organization called Stop LAPD Spying Coalition was formed specifically to document their resistance to secret drone surveillance. The group has previously condemned the police commission as “an affront to the principles of democracy,” after the commission closed one of their earlier sessions to the public and refused to allow comment on police proposals.
Stop LAPD Spying activists did attend this latest meeting and, again, did not seem reassured by what they were hearing, noting that what the LAPD decides will most likely have a trickle-down effect:
Jamie Garcia, a member of the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition — which has long been critical of police use of drones — said the LAPD’s action could set a pattern, leading other cities to adopt the technology. She pointed to Culver City, where the City Council weighed the purchase of eight drones at a meeting Monday.
“Now we see what precedent you have set,” Garcia said.
Perhaps in addition to the residents of Los Angeles, this will continue to spark a much-needed countrywide debate as more than 350 public safety departments across the nation have acquired drones in some capacity. Moreover, there is a disturbing trend of police wanting drones for routine public infractions, which further calls into question the assurances that drones will only be used to thwart terrorism or assist in hostage rescue. Here is a list of what Brunswick, Connecticut has proposed for their use of police drones:
- Railroad trespassing
- Illegal dumping
- ATVs and dirt bikes
- Motor vehicle violations
- Narcotics markets
- Car break-in
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.