The LAPD is about to embark on a yearlong test program with a fleet of "small Unmanned Aerial Systems," aka drones—making it the country's largest police department to use them—and some residents aren't happy about it. The Los Angeles Times reports on Tuesday's 3-1 vote by a civilian oversight committee LA Police Commission has been greeted with profanity, chants of "shame on you," and a small demonstration outside LAPD headquarters. Those pushing for the drone test say the camera-carrying devices could keep cops safer by helping gather information from the skies during dangerous situations. "Whether it's an active shooter at a school, or a suspect barricaded in a home … this technology will help us save lives," the president of the LAPD's union says in a statement.
But critics, including the ACLU of California, fear the drones could be used for other reasons, or even be used as weapons. A National Lawyers Guild Los Angeles rep says those opposed are afraid of "mission creep," per the Times. "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," he says. The LAPD insists the drones will be strictly regulated: Ars Technica cites the guidelines that spell out "permissible uses" (e.g., "barricaded suspects" and "natural disasters"), as well as prohibited ones (any that are "in violation of the law or Constitution"). The drones also can't be weaponized, and each flight must get the OK from a "high-ranking officer." LAPD Chief Charlie Beck says there will likely be one in-service drone and one for backup; they'll start their mission in 30 days or so. (Read more drones stories.)