Tech | October 18, 2017 10:01 am

Los Angeles Police Department to Test Drones

The LAPD will be the largest police department in the country to use drone technology.

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Google Is Helping the Pentagon Build AI for Drones. (Getty Images)

A civilian oversight panel signed off on a yearlong test of drones by the Los Angeles Police Department after five months of heated debate, reports the  Los Angeles TimesThis makes the LAPD the largest police department in the U.S. to use the controversial technology.

The Police Commission’s vote was 3-1, but there is clearly still a lot of opposition. LA Times reports that after the vote, there were “jeers, cursing and a small protest that spilled into a downtown intersection just outside the LAPD’s glass headquarters.” For weeks the police have tried to convince residents that they would not misuse the drones.

Drones have been a controversial issue in LA since the sheriff’s department, which is the largest in the nation, has flown one since January, reports the LA Times. 

Some say having camera-mounted drones can help protect officers and others by collecting important information during high-risk situations or searches, without risking anyone’s safety. However, others think that the use of drones is a little too Orwellian, and is getting closer to “unwarranted surveillance or fears of militarized, weapon-toting devices patrolling the skies,” writes the LA Times. 

The LAPD has promised to have careful restrictions on when the drones would be used. On top of that, there is supposed to be high oversight of the pilot program, reports the LA Times. Weapons on the drone and any sort of facial-recognition technology is prohibited. Critics do not trust the department to follow these rules, however, no matter how stringent.

Jim Lafferty of the National Lawyers Guild Los Angeles told the LA Times that “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.”

Meanwhile, Craig Lally, the president of the union representing the LAPD, said in a statement that this technology “will save lives,” whether its “an active shooter at school or a suspect barricaded in a home,” according to the LA Times. 

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said that the department would probably purchase two drones and roll them out in about 30 days, the LA Times reports.