What to Know
- The LAPD deployed drones twice this year so far, under a pilot program known as the Unmanned Aerial System.
- In each test, they used a drone to scope out buildings barricaded with suspects inside.
- There has been staunch opposition by citywide groups that believe the drone program will increase surveillance of citizens.
The Los Angeles Police Department twice deployed drones through the first three months of 2019 under a one-year pilot program authorized by the Police Commission last July, according to a report presented to the commissioners on Tuesday.
After the creation of the program in 2018, the department's first deployment of a drone - officially known as an Unmanned Aerial System - was on Jan. 9 in the 300 block of Berendo Street, and then again on March 28 in the 7400 block of S. San Pedro Street, the report said.
In the Berendo Street incident, a SWAT team was planning on entering a building with a barricaded suspect inside, but needed to know if the suspect was lying in wait, according to the report.
Authorities deployed the drone, and determined that it was safe to enter the building, where they found the man hiding in an attic and took him into custody, the report said.
The San Pedro Street incident also involved a possible barricaded suspect, and SWAT officers wanted a view of an atrium in an apartment complex that could only be seen from the air before teargas was deployed, although the suspect was ultimately found to not be at the location, the report said.
"We needed to get situational awareness on the location of a suspect who was in a Plexiglas atrium area," LAPD Assistant Chief Beatrice Girmala told the commission.
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The pilot program includes limited situations in which the LAPD can deploy a drone, including high-risk tactical operations, barricaded armed suspect responses, hostage rescues, and situations involving threats of exposure to hazardous materials and the need to detect explosive devices.
Members of the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, the Drone Free LAPD/No Drones, LA! Campaign and other groups were opposed to the creation of the program out of concerns it could lead to more surveillance of innocent residents and to the eventual weaponization of the devices.
"In regards to mission creep, it's not about what is happening today or what has already happened, but the foresight that the community has and what will be happening 10 years from now," Hamid Khan of the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition told the commission.
Khan was later kicked out of the meeting by Commission President Steve Soboroff when he continued to speak and yell from the audience after his allotted public speaking time had ended.