LAPD On Police Commission Radar, ‘Will Not Be Used’ Before Authorization Given

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Community activists opposed to the use of drone technology by law enforcement in Los Angeles and across the state of California rallied Monday at City Hall.

KNX 1070’s Jon Baird reports the protest comes in response to an endorsement from Mayor Eric Garcetti of Assembly Bill 1327, also known as the Drone Privacy Protection Act of 2014. Garcetti publicly gave his support Saturday for AB 1327, which supporters say places strict restrictions on how government agencies may use drones in California.

Officials say a pair of drones given to the Los Angeles Police Department are in the care of the Police Commission’s inspector general, and police have no immediate plans to deploy them.

The two Draganflyer X6 drones, gifts from Seattle police, were in federal custody until Friday when Police Commission Inspector General Alexander Bustamante was put in charge of the six-rotor drones.

City officials plan to set policies for their use. Public hearings are expected, and the commission may have some guidelines to vote on in about six months.

Under AB 1327, law enforcement would be required to get warrants before conducting surveillance and state and local agencies would be required to publicly announce their intent to purchase and use drones. Data received from drones would also be required to be destroyed after a set period of time, according to the legislation.

The bill was passed by both houses of the state Legislature at the end of August and is currently on the Governor’s desk awaiting his signature.

Police Commission President Steve Soboroff said no decisions have been made about using the drones for law enforcement surveillance.

“There will be no deployment of these vehicles until the commission completes a thorough review of the proposed policies and protocols,” he said.

But activists with the “Drone-Free LAPD/No Drones, LA!” campaign say AB 1327 “essentially authorizes and legitimizes” the use of drones “for collection of information and surveillance”.

“The bill does not give California communities the protection we need. Drones do not belong in the hands of police, especially with police corruption, brutality and shootings on the rise,” said coalition member Nadia Khan. “We believe that this bill normalizes the increasing militarization of law enforcement and will only make our communities less safe.”

In response to the protest, Assemblyman Jeff Gorell (R-Camarillo) – the author of AB 1327 – issued the following statement: “A small group in Southern California opposed to government use of drones for surveillance seriously misunderstands both the scope and intent of AB 1327. The sole purpose of this bill is to place restrictions on how state and local government may use drones, prohibiting law enforcement drone-use unless they have a warrant.

“AB 1327 protects civil liberties and privacy rights, while also providing a path for public agencies to take advantage of the numerous beneficial applications of drones, such as firefighting, emergency management and environmental monitoring.”

In May, Drone-Free LAPD/No Drones, LA! sent a letter to Mayor Garcetti’s office in May voicing their opposition to the acquisition of drones by the LAPD, claiming the police agency is becoming “highly militarized” and has “an extensive history of community distrust”.

During a segment on KNX 1070’s “Ask The Mayor” in June, Garcetti said, “I’ve asked [for drones] to be grounded until we have a policy, until we have community input….I don’t want these things up in the air until we know for sure they’re not going to be used against innocent folks.”

As part of his endorsement of AB 1327, Garcetti released the following statement: “The role of government is above all to serve and protect the people we represent, and we can’t do this without trust and transparency. I am proud to support AB 1327, and I urge the governor to sign this bill.”

Over 40 law professors from across the nation publicly announced their support (PDF) for the bill, including Erwin Chemerinsky, the Founding Dean of the UC Irvine School of Law and a renowned constitutional law professor.

The Federal Aviation Administration has been mandated to authorize and integrate drones into the airspace by 2015. It is estimated that over 20,000 drones will fill the nation’s skies within the next decade.