LAPD wins OK to test drones despite privacy concerns

Protesters oppose the LAPD's use of drones

Margaret Carrero/KNX 1070

LOS ANGELES - Despite privacy concerns, police received permission Tuesday to fly drone aircraft under a one-year pilot program that limits their use to dangerous situations and natural disasters.

The civilian Los Angeles Police Commission voted 3-1 to approve the test program.

The Metropolitan Division's SWAT team will be allowed to deploy drones in some instances but the devices won't be armed and specifically cannot be flown for purposes that violate the law or Constitution.

A high-ranking police officer must approve deployment on a case-by-case basis.

Deployment policy limits the use of the drones during the pilot program to "dangerous, high-risk tactical situations" or for providing observation during catastrophes.

Examples might include hunting for heavily armed suspects, hostage situations and search-and-rescue operations.

The limitations didn't mollify protesters who jeered as the commission took its vote and later gathered outside police headquarters, chanting "Drone-free LAPD! No drones L.A.!" Several were arrested after blocking traffic.

Opponents of drone usage fear "mission creep" that could lead to arming the aircraft or using them to spy on the public.

The LAPD had two drones that it acquired in 2014 but hadn't deployed in the face of vocal opposition.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department began using a drone in January. At the time, Sheriff Jim McDonnell said the $10,000 aircraft would be used only in limited circumstances to assist deputies with rescues, bomb scares, arson investigations and tactical situations.

Officials say It has been used only a handful of times.

In July, the Sheriff's Department's Civilian Oversight Commission voted 5-4 to ask McDonnell to ground the drone but he refused, calling it an important public safety tool. He previously had promised the aircraft wouldn't be used to spy on the public.