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​LAPD acquires drone capability

Published time: May 31, 2014 14:18
A Draganflyer X6.(Reuters / Chris Francescani)

A Draganflyer X6.(Reuters / Chris Francescani)

For a city infamous for circling police helicopters, Los Angeles Police were surprisingly late to the drone game. All that has changed, however, as the department quietly added two unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to its arsenal.

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) announced they had acquired two Draganflyer X6 aircraft as “gifts” from the Seattle Police, the department said on Friday.

“These vehicles were purchased by the Seattle Police Department using federal grants. There was no cost to the city of Los Angeles,” CBS Los Angeles cites police as saying.

The 3.5-lbs. UAV, which looks like a small helicopter, is about three-feet-wide and boasts a camera, video recorder and infrared night-vision capabilities.

The Department added that the craft will remain grounded for the time being until a proper review is conducted.

“No decision has been made whether or not these vehicles will be used. They are currently in the custody of a federal law enforcement agency pending review by the LAPD and the Board of Police Commissioners, as well as the public,” the department said in a statement.

The department’s cautiousness is likely sparked by concerns of spying and other privacy violations.

According to LA Weekly, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has already expressed its concern, noting that the LAPD only received the drones after the public in Seattle had rejected their deployment on privacy grounds.

The ACLU fears the craft “can be used for completely surreptitious surveillance that a helicopter could never perform - and could pose particular threats to privacy when combined with other technology like facial recognition software, infrared night vision cameras, or microphones to record personal conversations.”

Seattle police, ironically, seem to have dumped the drones on the LAPD to avoid further controversy, as difficulties in returning the UAVs to the manufacturer sparked fears they would not remain grounded forever.

Attempting to assuage public concern, the LAPD released a statement saying the UAVs use would be limited to specific circumstances.

“The review would only consider narrow and prescribed uses to prevent imminent bodily harm, for example, a hostage situation or barricaded armed suspect,” the department said.

The LAPD already has the United States biggest police helicopter fleet - 17 choppers in total. The fleet costs an average of $20 million a year to maintain.