Following several years of controversy, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) has gotten the green light to implement a one-year pilot program on the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for its special weapons and tactics (SWAT) team.
On Tuesday, the commissioners voted 3-1 to allow the department to proceed with the program, after which they will determine if the LAPD should move forward with the technology, the Los Angeles Times reports. Following the vote, a group of protesters made their way outside the LAPD’s base – which isn’t a surprising turn of events, given the long-standing opposition.
Back in 2014, two Draganflyer UAS were gifted to the LAPD from the Seattle Police Department. The public voiced their concerns with the new technology, including by forming an anti-drone group, which said at the time that drones represented a “militarization of local law enforcement” and would “exacerbate the flagrant violation of privacy rights” of citizens. The federal Office of the Inspector General later announced it would be holding onto the LAPD’s drones until policies on their usage took shape.
The Los Angeles Times notes that the drones, in the end, were never put to use – and were actually destroyed. Now, following the vote and the approved set of new rules for the LAPD, the department will buy two new ones and likely deploy them within 30 days. Though the majority of the commissioners believe the new set of guidelines is strict enough, the commissioner who voted against the program cited concerns from the public; she said the LAPD did not “build the trust that is required to support the implementation of this technology.”
The LAPD’s new guidelines explain that the technology will help “safely resolve dangerous, high-risk tactical situations and improve situational awareness capabilities during natural disasters and catastrophic incidents.” In charge of oversight will be the Office of Special Operation’s Counter-Terrorism and Special Operations Bureau.
The guidelines note that the LAPD will not equip the drones with weapons and will deploy them with facial-recognition software. In addition, all video acquired by the UAS will follow the same procedures of the department’s in-car and body-worn video programs. The full set of guidelines can be found here.