The Los Angeles Police Department will become the largest police department in the United States to test the use of drones, following a 3-1 vote.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck has announced that the department will purchase and use two drones, which will be rolled out “in about 30 days.”
The Los Angeles Times reports, “The Police Commission’s 3-1 vote prompted jeers, cursing and a small protest that spilled into a downtown intersection just outside the LAPD’s glass headquarters — evidence of the opposition police have faced in recent weeks as they tried to reassure wary residents that the airborne devices would not be misused.”
“Commissioner Cynthia McClain-Hill, who cast the sole vote against the drone program Tuesday, asked [LAPD Chief Charlie] Beck about his comments three years ago [against use of police drones] and why he thought now was a good time to revisit the issue,” the LA Times’ Kate Mather reported. “He pointed to the wider use of drones by other agencies and what he described as a ‘much more robust feedback mechanism’ this time around. Many in the audience jeered.”
McClain-Hill also reportedly criticized the police department for allegedly failing “what it should do and needs to do in order to build the trust that is required to support the implementation of this technology.”
Despite this, Craig Lally, the president of a union representing the LAPD, claimed the drones would serve as “a tool that will protect both police officers and residents.”
“Whether it’s an active shooter at a school, or a suspect barricaded in a home in a Los Angeles neighborhood, this technology will help us save lives,” he declared.
The National Lawyers Guild Los Angeles’ Jim Lafferty disagreed, expressing, “Mission creep is of course the concern.”
“The history of this department is of starting off with supposedly good intentions about the new toys that it gets… only to then get too tempted by what they can do with those toys,” he continued.
Following public concerns, several changes were made to the police department’s drone policy, “including the ban on facial-recognition software.”
The rules also indicate that “only SWAT officers will be allowed to fly drones during a handful of specific, high-risk situations,” while, “They can also be used during search and rescue operations, or when looking for armed suspects who have ‘superior firepower,’ an ‘extraordinary tactical advantage’ or who are suspected of shooting at an officer.”
“Each flight must be approved by a high-ranking officer. Any request to fly a drone — whether approved or not — will be documented and reviewed,” explained the Los Angeles Times. “The Police Commission will also receive quarterly reports that will be made public. At the end of the yearlong program, commissioners will review how the drones were used and decide whether to continue.”