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Los Angeles Police Department Drone Use in the Works

Okabe & Haushalter May 19, 2018 Criminal Defense

In October 2017, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) got permission to become the largest police department in the nation to use drones for police work. The Police Commission permitted the use despite resident concerns that the drones would be misused.

The drone misuse could include violations of constitutional rights for those accused of crimes and general private citizens. As Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys, Okabe & Haushalter has some serious apprehensions as well.

How Will the Drones Be Used?

The LAPD hails the drones as “a tool that will protect both police officers and residents.” They will be used to collect information about high-risk situations. They may also be used for aerial searches as well. Dealing with active shooters or home barricades have been cited as two potential uses for the “small Unmanned Aerial Systems.”

However, many critics of the program cite the concern for putting weapons on the drones or for spying—and widespread violations of rights to privacy. It is difficult to prevent a search when you do not know it is occurring overhead.

To ease public concerns, drones are only permitted in particular situations. Every flight must be approved by a high-ranking officer. Each request to use the drones is supposed to be documented and reviewed before it is permitted. Quarterly reports on drone use will be made public as well.

Examples of high-risk situations where a drone may be appropriate include:

  • Search and rescue operations
  • Looked for armed suspects who have “superior firepower” or an “extraordinary tactical advantage”
  • Searching for those charged with shooting at an officer
  • School shooter situations
  • Suspected arson situations

Adding weapons to the drones or using facial recognition software on the drone is not permitted.

The drones are only supposed to be in use for a trial period of one year. Then the Police Commissioners will review drone usage and determine whether the program should continue.

The Latest on the LAPD Drones

The LAPD was given two drones in 2014 from the Seattle police department. Seattle stopped its own drone program because of harsh public criticism. Those two drones have since been destroyed. However, the LAPD recently received a $31,500 donation to purchase several drones.

The one-year trial period will not begin until the LAPD has purchased the drones and trained officers on how to use them properly. The donation was approved in January 2018, but it is unclear whether the LAPD has started using drones as of May 2018.

Concerns About Unapproved Surveillance

The public concern regarding drone is reasonable. It is possible that these devices would be used to conduct searches that have not been approved through the traditional warrant process. In fact, civilians may be searched without their knowledge at all because of this technology. It presents some serious concerns regarding your Fourth Amendment rights to be protected from baseless searches.

If you have concerns about whether your rights were violated during a search or an arrest, you need a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer. Call now to learn more: 310-430-7799.