Chief: LAPD “Will Not Sacrifice Public Trust” to Use Drones

LA's police chief says drones acquired from Seattle would only be used for manhunts, standoffs and other tactical situations after consultation with civil rights groups

Two aerial drones obtained by the Los Angeles Police Department would only be deployed during tactical situations -- such as manhunts and standoffs -- after the department sets strict standards agreed to by civil rights groups, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said Thursday.

At a morning news conference, Beck said the drones acquired from Seattle police might be useful during SWAT situations and when officers need to conduct crowd control operations. But he said standards for their use would be established after consultation with civil rights groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, which has expressed concerns about infringements on individual privacy rights.

"The Los Angeles Police Department will never, ever give up public confidence for a piece of police equipment," Beck said.

The drones would be used in narrow cases such as to "prevent imminent bodily harm" or "a hostage situation or barricaded armed suspect," according to a news release from the LAPD.

"All of you have watched standoffs, all of you have watched perimeters with suspects hiding --  we're interested in those applications," Beck said.

Hector Villagra, executive director American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said earlier this week that the organization applauded the LAPD for being transparent about the acquisition, he said the group "questions whether the marginal benefits to SWAT operations justify the serious threat to privacy an LAPD drone program could pose."

The Draganflyer X6 Unmanned Aerial Vehicles were received last week at no cost to the city from the Seattle Police Department, which  purchased them using federal grants. Beck defended the LAPD acquisition of the drones, saying such devices are  already "in the hands of private citizens," businesses and sports teams.

Online retailer recently announced it is flight-testing drones to possibly use them for deliveries.

"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," Beck said. "We would be foolish not to look at these systems and to see if in fact  they can make a positive impact on public safety without eroding public trust."

Earlier this week, the Federal Avaiation Administration announced it would review a request by aerial and photo/video production companies to use drones for filming movies a television shows.

Beck added that he is not in a rush to deploy the drones and has no timeline for deployment. A group of civil rights advocates and LAPD representatives will discuss concerns and draft a policy "if we deploy these systems," Beck said.

The are being housed at a undisclosed location.

He added that the does not know why Seattle police no longer wanted the drones.

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