Draganflyer X6 carrying a thermal infrared camera. Courtesy Draganfly Innovations Inc.
Draganflyer X6 carrying a thermal infrared camera. Courtesy Draganfly Innovations Inc.

A pair of drones given to the Los Angeles Police Department are in the care of the Police Commission’s inspector general, and police have no immediate plans to deploy them, it was announced Monday.

The two Draganflyer X6 drones, gifts from Seattle police, were in federal custody until Friday, when Police Commission Inspector General Alexander Bustamante was put in charge of the six-rotor drones.

“These two vehicles will be secured in my offices and I will not release them to anyone, including the LAPD, until and unless the commission authorizes their release,” Bustamante said. “In the meantime, these two (unmanned aerial vehicles) will not be used or operated in any manner.”

City officials plan to set policies for their use. Public hearings are expected, and the commission may have some proposed guidelines to put to a vote in about six months.

Police Commission President Steve Soboroff said no decisions have been made about using the drones for law enforcement surveillance.

“There will be no deployment of these vehicles until the commission completes a thorough review of the proposed policies and protocols,” he said. “The proposed policies and protocols will be reviewed publicly by the commission, and the public will have opportunities to address the commission directly.”

The federal government no longer wanted to house the drones for the LAPD and was getting ready to return them to the agency last week, Soboroff told City News Service.

“Those two pieces of equipment are hot potatoes and we wanted to put them in the freezer,” Soboroff said.

The drones are at an undisclosed, “very secure” location that only the inspector general can access, he said.

“We didn’t want the department to even have access to them,” Soboroff said.

Soboroff said the LAPD will be holding at least four community meetings.

Police officials are being asked to develop policies for using the unmanned aerial vehicles in “very narrow circumstances,” he said.

The drones changed hands the same day Mayor Eric Garcetti endorsed a drones regulation bill awaiting the governor’s signature.

AB 1327 would require law enforcement agencies to obtain warrants before using drones for surveillance, and mandate that state and local agencies publicize their intentions to buy and use the unmanned aircraft. It also sets a time limit after which data gathered using the drones must be destroyed.

Garcetti said he is “proud” to support the bill and urged Gov. Jerry Brown to sign it.

“The role of government is above all to serve and protect the people we represent, and we can’t do this without trust and transparency,” he said.

Drone-Free LAPD, a coalition of activists opposing LAPD’s use of drones, gathered outside Los Angeles City Hall this morning to criticized the mayor for throwing his support behind the legislation, saying Garcetti did so without seeking input from the community.

The mayor’s support for the bill “gives a green light to the Police Commission to establish a policy similar to the bill without asking any questions from the community,” said Jamie Garcia, an organizer for the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition.

Garcia said Seattle bought the drones using a Department of Homeland Security grant, but ended up giving them away to the LAPD after the public expressed overwhelming opposition to them.

“The community basically drowned out the City Council and the mayor, completely rejecting the use of drones,” Garcia said. “The mayor, hearing the community and actually responding to community input, decided not to get the drones off the ground.”

She added LAPD personnekl went to Israel earlier this year to look at a drone model called HoverMast that “does crowd control and can be fitted with non-lethal weapons.”

The two drones in the city’s custody are used for taking video and photos.

Yusef Robb, a spokesman for the mayor, reiterated that “no decision has been made” about how the drones will be used, saying “we are making sure there is a public and transparent process.”

City News Service

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