A cautious step forward on police drones
Among the arguments against the use of airborne camera-wielding drones by the Los Angeles Police Department, a statement made by one critic at a recent Police Commission meeting stood out: “Drones should not be talked about.”
That's the most extreme position, boiled down to its essence: that law enforcement drones (or "small unmanned aerial systems," as police prefer to call them) pose such a serious threat of police surveillance and militarization that the subject should not even be broached.
But of course it's far too late for that. Technology steadily advances, and inexpensive drones will become more common, whether they are controlled by police, commercial ventures or criminals. Drones must be talked about, often and in depth.
The LAPD's openness to such talk has been mixed. To its credit, in response to public outcry it grounded and eventually destroyed the two drones it accepted in 2014 as gifts from Seattle and began a process of public outreach and input. But many participants in the LAPD's recent community meetings left with the impression that police were less interested responding to public concerns about drones than they were in checking off the outreach boxes before moving ahead with their program.
Now the Police Commission — the LAPD's civilian overseers — has before it a set of proposed guidelines for deploying drones that provides for important measures of transparency, accountability and oversight. During a yearlong pilot project, drones would be deployed only in limited circumstances, with a chain of required approvals that goes up to a deputy chief. Drones would include cameras but not weapons, the point being to extend the vision of police without extending their physical reach.
Assistant Chief Beatrice Girmala, listens to public criticism of LAPD drone policy she presented at the Police Commission meeting in Los Angeles on Oct. 3.
(Los Angeles Times)