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LAPD’s 2 Drones Will Remain Grounded During Policy Review, Police Commission Says Amid Protest


A few days after Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti signaled his support of a state bill that would allow limited use of drone technology by law enforcement agencies, a community group was protesting at City Hall Monday in opposition to what it called the “militarization” of LAPD and the proposed police use of drones.

Members of the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition and the Drone-Free LAPD, No Drones, LA! Campaign held banners and signs on City Hall’s south steps beginning at about 9 a.m.

Supporters of the group said the risk of the police abuse is too great to allow LAPD to use the two drones it owns, the Los Angeles Times reported shortly after the campaign was launched last month.

The drones were obtained in May from the Seattle Police Department but had beenlocked up in federal care while the department crafts a police for their use.

In a news release sent out just minutes before the planned protest Monday, the Los Angeles Police Commission said the LAPD’s two Draganflyer X Unmanned Aerial Vehicles had been transferred Friday from federal custody to that of the LAPD’s Office of Inspector General. The drones won’t be used until the Police Commission has approved their use, according to the statement.

A still from a video showed Seattle police officers using a drone. The Seattle department gave its drones to LAPD in May 2014 amid controversy. (Credit: KCPQ)

“I want to assure all that there has been no decision that UAV’s will be utilized in the city of Los Angeles,” said commission President Steve Soboroff in the release.

“Putting the two hot potatoes in the freezer while we do public process,”Soboroff wrote in a tweet.

Draft policies being prepared by LAPD were expected to be reviewed by the commission at public meetings in about six months, the release stated.

As the protest got underway, Hamid Khan of Stop LAPD Spying Coalition responded to the Police Commission statement by saying, “good.”

“We just want them to stay locked up and stay grounded and give them back to Seattle, where they came from,” Khan said. “We reject the use of drones in our communities under any circumstances.”

Garcetti had “reneged” on his promise to seek community input when he on Friday endorsed Assembly Bill 1327, Khan said. The bill was passed by the Legislature last month and sent to Gov. Jerry Brown, who has not signed it.

The legislation would allow police agencies to employ unmanned aerial vehicles but would require all photos or video footage to be destroyed within one year of its recording. It was introduced in 2013 by Republican Assemblyman Jeff Gorell of Camarillo.

Under the proposed law, police agencies would be required to obtain a court-issued warrant for the use of drones in most circumstances, with the exception of  emergency situations such as search-and-rescue operations, fires and “hot pursuits.” Agencies would also be able to use drones without warrants in response to environmental disasters and fires or illegal activity in wilderness areas.

Last week, Garcetti called on Brown to sign the bill, titled the Drone Privacy Protection Act. He said the bill has strict requirements for the use of drones and would help protect first-responders’ lives.

“We don’t want drones spying on everyday citizens for no reason, and AB 1327 protects the rights and the privacy of Californians by establishing important restrictions on the use of UAVs,” Garcetti said Friday.

The mayor had previously referred to the use of drones by police “creepy.”

Khan said the exceptions to obtaining a warrant in the bill were so broad that “you can fly a drone through them.”

“One of our greatest conners is this rapid militarization that is going on in law enforcement, and drones add to this immense amount of tactical weaponry and the surveillance apparatus that already exists,” Khan said.

Responding to the protesters Monday afternoon, Assemblyman Gorell said the coalition has misunderstood the “scope and intent” of his bill, which he noted prohibits “weaponization” of drones and allows local governments to adopt additional restrictions on their use.

“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,” Gorell said in a statement. “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.”