The Los Angeles Police Department announced on Friday that they have obtained two “unmanned aerial vehicles” to add to their law enforcement arsenal. According to the Los Angeles Times, in order to avoid negative connotations, the LAPD purposely avoided calling the aircraft “drones.”
The Times reported that the Draganflyer X6 aircraft is an advanced surveillance device, which looks like a three-foot-wide helicopter outfitted with two cameras and infrared night-vision capabilities. The LAPD emphasized that the drones will not be doing general sweeps of unsuspecting citizens, but will only be used for “narrow and prescribed uses.” For example, LAPD spokesman Cmdr. Andrew Smith indicated that the drones’ ability to look inside buildings could be beneficial in hostage situations.
“We wanted to be really up-front with the public that we’re looking at using these down the road,” Smith said. “We wanted to make sure it didn’t look like we were trying to sneak these things into action.”
The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department is on the defensive because of a 2012 episode where they flew a small airplane equipped with cameras over Compton for nine days without notifying the city’s inhabitants. According to the Times, in a citywide dragnet, the small plane recorded images of every corner of the 10.1-square-mile city.
The ACLU approved of the LAPD coming out in front by announcing the acquisition of the drones, but they still claim that deploying the unmanned vehicles sets up the potential for abuse. Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California, questions “whether the marginal benefits… justify the serious threat to privacy an LAPD drone program could pose.”