Despite months of opposition by community members, the Los Angeles Police Department has been granted approval for a year-long test to use drones—or “small Unmanned Aerial Systems” in police-speak. The mid-October decision by the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners, a civilian panel that oversees the department, makes the LAPD the nation’s largest police department to use the controversial technology.

The commission’s 3-1 decision has met with backlash. The Los Angeles Times notes that only a fraction of the hundreds of emails from community members received by the police department supported the use of drones, and many in attendance when the commission voted jeered and joined a small protest outside the downtown police headquarters.

Commissioner Cynthia McClain-Hill cast the only vote against the drone program, saying she thought the LAPD did not do “what it should do and needs to do in order to build the trust that is required to support the implementation of this technology.”

Jim Lafferty of the National Lawyers Guild Los Angeles echoed her reservations. “Mission creep is of course the concern,” he said.  “The history of this department is of starting off with supposedly good intentions about the new toys that it gets … only to then get too tempted by what they can do with those toys.”

The Los Angeles Times elaborates:

Advocates say camera-mounted drones could help protect officers and others by collecting crucial information during high-risk situations or searches without risking their safety. For many privacy advocates and police critics, however, the drones stir Orwellian visions of unwarranted surveillance or fears of militarized, weapon-toting devices patrolling the skies.

LAPD brass, along with police commissioners, tried to ease those concerns by promising careful restrictions on when the drones would be used and strong oversight of the pilot program. Weapons and facial-recognition technology will also be prohibited.

But some critics said they could not trust the department to follow its own rules, no matter how stringent. 

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