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Anti-Drone Activists Fear LAPD Drone Use Could Get Out Of Hand

By Juiet Bennett Rylah in The LAist.

Demonstrators met this morning at City Hall (Photo via ABC7’s Robert Holguin on Twitter)

A group of activists held a demonstration this morning at City Hall to launch their campaign against the use of drones by the LAPD.

The group is called Drone-Free LAPD/No Drones, LA! and they want to make sure the LAPD doesn’t start using the unmanned machines in the city. The group said in a release that they sent a letter to Mayor Eric Garcetti on August 12, asking for a meeting to discuss the issue. So far Garcetti hasn’t responded to the group, but in an “Ask the Mayor” segment on KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO in June, he did say, “I don’t want to have [drones] flying over the city looking at the general population, trying to find crime. That’s creepy, that’s not the place for these things.”

The release quoted the letter:

“As residents of Los Angeles, we reject the recent acquirement of drones by LAPD. We believe the acquisition of drones signify(sic) a giant step forward in the militarization of local law enforcement that is normalizing continued surveillance and violations of the human rights of our communities.”

While the LAPD is not currently using drones, they were gifted two Dragonflyer X6 drones from Seattle in May. The drones are currently in the hands of federal officials, L.A. Times reports, as the LAPD needs to have an approved drone policy in place before they can use them, as well as an okay from the FAA.

There are some seemingly practical reasons to use drones that have been specified by Police Chief Charlie Beck. They could be used during standoffs to see what’s going on without sending a human being into a dangerous situation. They could also be used during manhunts.

But opponents fear that they could be used to invade the privacy of citizens. Not to mention, there’s a national outrage currently going on about the militarization of the police force, especially as unrest continues in Ferguson, Missouri. Another concern is “mission creep,” where over time, the drones could start being used in unapproved situations.

This weekend, protesters assembled at the LAPD headquarters downtown to protest the shooting of Ezell Ford by LAPD. In attendance was ‘Tom Zebra,’ an activist who advocates filming the police. He began using his personal drone to record the march, but as protesters neared Union Station, he was approached by police who ordered him to take it down. They cited the proximity to Dodgers Stadium and FAA regulations.