The Los Angeles Police Commission Tuesday will consider formally creating the police department’s first unmanned aircraft program, which has long been opposed by critics who believe the use of drones amounts to an invasion of residents’ privacy.
The LAPD spent the last year testing the proposed program — known as the Small Unmanned Aerial Systems Program, or sUAS — using drones in select situations.
“The (program) was to be utilized as an effective de-escalation tool in the preservation of life and harm-reduction situations,” LAPD Chief Michel Moore wrote in a report to the commission. “Overall, the deployment of a (drone program) would enhance the department’s ability to protect and serve the public.”
Moore said use of the drones helps reduce risks to SWAT officers.
During the test year, incident commanders called for the use of drones six times, but were deployed only four times. The devices gave officers better views of suspects who were believed to be armed at the time, according to Moore’s report.
According to the report, a drone was used in June to locate a person who was suspected of being involved in a car-to-car shooting. The suspect went into a trucking yard, and the drone was able to locate him. Moore said in that instance, the drone was more effective than a robot due to all the clutter in the yard and safer than using a K-9 unit.
The department experienced some issues with the first drones it used, such as abruptly losing connections with them, according to the report. But newer technology includes better sensors, higher quality video resolution and other advanced systems.
The report estimated that the program would save the department money, estimating that between $2,800 and $3,800 was saved each of the four times a drone was deployed over the past year.
Creating a permanent drone program has been criticized by some organizations, which view their use as an invasion of privacy. The pilot program was approved in 2017 and implemented last year.
The Stop LAPD Spying Coalition and the Drone-Free LAPD/No Drones, LA! Campaign held protests and demonstrations objecting to the use of drones. The coalition in 2017 wrote a letter to Mayor Eric Garcetti and the commission asking for “sufficient community outreach” on the program.