If you’re wary of police drones checking you out from the sky, this is your chance to be heard.
The Los Angeles Police Department will host four community meetings Wednesday to seek public input on a proposed pilot program to deploy drones as a crime-fighting tool.
“The one-year program would use a small Unmanned Aerial System — otherwise commonly known as a small drone — in limited tactical situations,” an LAPD statement said.
“The proposed pilot program will be for a period of one year and will be monitored by the Board of Police Commissioners,” it said. “At the end of the pilot program, the usefulness of the (drones) will be evaluated to determine if a permanent program should be put into place.”
All members of the public may attend the meetings and provide input. The meetings will begin at 6:30 p.m. at these locations:
— Marvin Braude San Fernando Valley Constituent Service Center, 6262 Van Nuys Blvd., Van Nuys;
— Friendship Auditorium, 3201 Riverside Drive, Los Angeles;
— Peck Park Recreation Center, 560 North Western Ave., San Pedro; and
— Westwood Recreation Center, 1350 Sepulveda Blvd., Westwood.
Community members unable to attend the meetings may send their comments via email to SUAS@lapd.online; or by mail at Los Angeles Police Department Office of Special Operations, SUAS Pilot Project, P.O. Box 30158, Los Angeles, CA 90030.
LAPD Assistant Chief Beatrice Girmala on Aug. 8 presented the department’s plan for a pilot program for limited use of drones to the Board of Police Commissioners. She said that after the public meetings to get feedback, official guidelines will be drafted before the pilot program is sent back to the Police Commission — the LAPD’s civilian overseer — for approval.
The LAPD’s drone program is moving forward weeks after a majority of Los Angeles County Sheriff Civilian Oversight commissioners signaled they wanted Sheriff Jim McDonnell to stop flying a drone used in law enforcement operations, and as local organizations continue to express concerns about law enforcement drones.
Girmala said the guidelines the LAPD is considering would create limited uses for drones that would respect First and Fourth Amendment rights. The devices would not be used for general surveillance, but rather in high-risk tactical operations involving hazardous materials emissions, the search for explosive devices, barricaded armed suspects and hostage rescues, she said.
The use of drones would also have be approved on a case-by-case basis and they would not be weaponized, Girmala said.
The LAPD’s possible use of drones is opposed by some civil rights organizations. The Stop LAPD Spying Coalition and the Drone-Free LAPD/No Drones, LA! Campaign have held protests demonstrations.
The Stop LAPD Spying Coalition also objected to the public meetings, saying they were not announced with sufficient notice and are not being held in communities most impacted by the department.
“The LAPD is clearly subverting the process they themselves announced two weeks ago,” the group said in a statement. “In addition to this communication failure, the timing and location of these community meetings are neither sufficient nor acceptable in terms of being accessible to communities most impacted by over-policing and escalating militarized surveillance.”
The Stop LAPD Spying Coalition sent a letter on Tuesday to Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners asking that the meetings be canceled and rescheduled when “sufficient community outreach has occurred. We also demand that public meetings be held in the communities most impacted by police violence such as South Central, East Los Angeles, and downtown Los Angeles.”
Two Draganflyer X6 drones were given to the LAPD by the city of Seattle in 2014 but were never deployed. The drones were put in storage, but Girmala told the commissioners those two drones have since been destroyed.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said in 2014 that the drones could be used during tactical events such as manhunts and standoffs. But he also said the department planned to work closely with the American Civil Liberties Union to ensure the drones would not infringe on individual privacy rights. The chief in 2014 also defended accepting the drones from Seattle and said such devices are already being used by private citizens, businesses and sports teams.
A representative of the ACLU of Southern California has told the Police Commission that the civil rights organization was never consulted and has not assisted the LAPD in developing a drone policy.
–City News Service
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