Residents took to the streets in protest on Tuesday after the Los Angeles Police Commission passed a proposal allowing the LAPD to employ a one-year pilot program to use drones for law enforcement. The 3-1 decision came after overwhelming disapproval from community members at Tuesday's board meeting. Protesters gathered outside the LAPD headquarters in downtown, with some being arrested for allegedly disobeying police directions.
Prior to the meeting, the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition and the Drone-Free LAPD/No Drones, LA! group gathered to speak to the press about their dissatisfaction with drones and the commission.
"We have people who are concerned about the escalating militarization of the LAPD," Hamid Khan, campaign manager for the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, said. "LAPD has completely and utterly failed in its outreach to the community."
The department proposed the one-year drone pilot program as a means to "improve officer and community safety," and guidelines for the pilot program were released to the public on October 3. Since then, the LAPD has received a petition with more than 5,000 signatures, 1,900 emails and 600 postcards in opposition to the program. They have only received nine emails in favor of the program.
LAPD proposes that SWAT teams will use drones to, "safely resolve dangerous, high-risk tactical situations and improve situational awareness capabilities during natural disasters and catastrophic incidents."
One speaker at the protest cited the US Constitution when expressing that drones are an invasion of privacy. He believes this type of technological surveillance violates citizens' Fourth Amendment rights, which is the prevention of unreasonable searches and seizures.
Some in the community feels drones are a gateway to LAPD militarization. They fear this could lead to drones becoming weaponized.
Nevertheless, the LAPD upholds that their drones will not have any weaponry and will not be deployed in violation of any laws or Constitutional rights, according to the proposed plan.
A report conducted by the LAPD that was read during the meeting on Tuesday concluded there are concerns within the area of privacy, staying on mission and whether or not if the department would actually follow their own guidelines.
"They haven't justified why the LAPD needs [drones]," says the self-styled "General Jeff" of Skid Row. "Is SWAT failing that bad?"
Paula Minor, a representative of Black Lives Matter, says that BLM stands against the use of drones. "This commission ignores the people by charter of those they're supposed to represent," says Minor.
More than 35 community members spoke at the board meeting, and each speaker expressed disapproval of the drone program and distrust of the LAPD. "Surveillance is a form of weapon," says a member of the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LACAN).
Steve Soboroff is the President of the Board of Commissioners and voted yes on the proposal. He says the movement for drones is to "protect the lives of officer and suspects."
"The [real] issue is a general distrust and a categorical distrust of the men and women of law enforcement," says Soboroff with contempt.
Commissioner Cynthia McClain-Hill voted against the proposal, maintaining she has "a personal bias against surveillance of any kind."
McClain-Hill referred back to Police Chief Charlie Beck's 2014 comments in regard to the LAPD's need to have the public's trust as she questioned the proposed guidelines. She also asked about how the facial recognition software will be used.
Chief Beck responded to McClain-Hill that drones have the ability to use facial recognition software, but if the commission votes against this particular use of the technology, the police department will not use it during the pilot program.
"A number of other law enforcement entities have implemented programs like these," says Chief Beck. He mentioned that they weighed public trust against the cost-benefit analysis of this program. The department believes drones will "provide critical real-time information and situational awareness during volatile and life-threatening incidents," as stated in their proposal.
Matthew Johnson, Vice-President of the Board of Commissioners, affirmed that the drone guidelines will be amended to meet the security concerns of the community, primarily the right to privacy and access to the video footage shot by the drones.
Thirty other police and sheriff's departments in California already use drones, and now Los Angeles will be following suit.
The pilot program will be undergoing a few more drafts to refine the guidelines. Chief Beck says the department will purchase two drones, one for use and one as a backup, and are expected to begin using them in a month.
Once the yearlong program has completed, the Commission will review how useful the drones were for the LAPD and determine whether to continue with this technology.