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LAPD considers deploying unmanned drones for ‘tactical events’

Published time: June 06, 2014 10:34
Edited time: June 06, 2014 13:29
Reuters/Charles Platiau

Reuters/Charles Platiau

Defending the decision to pursue unmanned drones to assist in police work, the LAPD - who say they will cooperate with privacy groups on the matter - said the devices are being purchased by citizens, so why not allow law enforcement to use it as well?

Los Angeles acquired drones from Seattle.

At a news conference Thursday at LAPD headquarters, Chief Charlie Beck revealed the unmanned drones could assist police forces in “standoffs, perimeters, suspects hiding…and other tactical events.”

“We’re interested in those applications,” he said.

Beck responded to criticism of the plans by human rights and privacy groups by explaining that the technology is already “in the hands of private citizens” and corporations, so why shouldn’t law enforcement experiment with the devices as well?

“When retailers start talking about using them to deliver packages, we would be silly not to at least have a discussion of whether we want to use them in law enforcement,” the police chief said.

In December, Amazon and UPS announced ambitious plans to start testing UAVs for making home deliveries.

Late last month, the LAPD received two Draganflyer X6 unmanned drones as a ‘gift’ from the Seattle Police Department, in what seems to have been an effort by the latter to avoid public uproar.

Seattle authorities purchased the UAVs for $82,000 in 2010, funded by grants from the Department of Homeland Security. However, neither the city council nor the public was aware of the police drone program until a 2012 lawsuit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation over the department’s application for operation certificates from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Los Angeles Police Department officers (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images/AFP)

The resulting public outcry over the drones forced the mayor to terminate the program in February 2013.

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

Each remote-controlled vehicle is 3 feet (90cm) wide, has three rotors and can carry a video camera.

In order to calm public suspicion that the drones will infringe upon privacy rights, Beck said the LAPD would work closely with the American Civil Liberties Union during the “vetting process” of the UAVs.

"I will not sacrifice public support for a piece of police equipment," Beck said, as quoted by the Los Angeles Times. "We're going to thoroughly vet the public's opinion on the use of the aerial surveillance platforms."


The LAPD added it would seek approval from the Police Commission before unleashing the drones above Los Angeles.

Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California, issued a statement: "The Los Angeles Police Department asked the ACLU of Southern California to meet and articulate our concerns about the privacy issues raised by the use of drones. We agreed to do so…However, at this point the ACLU SoCal has no plans to participate in any process to craft policies for LAPD's use of drones, nor have we been formally invited to lead a team of advocates to help craft such policies.”

"As the ACLU has previously said, we question whether any marginal benefits of drones programs justify the serious threat to privacy they pose."