Should the LAPD use drones? Here’s what’s behind the heated debate
by Kate Mather
For more than three years, a pair of drones donated to the Los Angeles Police Department was locked away, collecting dust after a public outcry over the idea of police using the controversial technology.
Seattle police saw a similar backlash when they wanted to use the devices, grounding their drone program before it even took off. And recently, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s use of a drone has been criticized by activists as well as civilian oversight commissioners who want the agency to stop.
On Tuesday, the LAPD again waded into the heated debate, saying the department wanted to test the use of drones in a one-year pilot program.
Drones have been hailed by law enforcement across the country as a valuable technology that could help find missing hikers or monitor armed suspects without jeopardizing the safety of officers. But efforts to deploy the unmanned aircraft have frequently drawn fierce criticism from privacy advocates or police critics for whom the devices stir Orwellian visions of inappropriate — or illegal — surveillance and fears of military-grade, weaponized drones patrolling the skies.
The LAPD saw that resistance Tuesday even before department brass unveiled details of their proposal to the Police Commission. About three dozen activists gathered before the board’s morning meeting to denounce any use of drones by the department. When the presentation ended, some of those activists leapt to their feet.
“Drone-free LAPD, no drones L.A.!” they chanted.