The Los Angeles Police Department will launch a one-year pilot program to test the use of drones. The program makes Los Angeles the largest U.S. city to use unmanned aerial vehicles for police work.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the civilian Police Commission, an oversight committee, approved the program on Tuesday with a 3-1 vote. The program was passed despite intense community protests. Angelenos fear that police drones could be used to spy on innocent citizens.

The LAPD promised that, under this pilot program, drones would not be equipped with facial recognition software or weapons.

According to regulations, the LAPD's drones can only be used by special weapons and tactics (SWAT) officers during "high-risk situations," including when tactical officers are looking for suspects who are using "superior firepower" or during a pursuit of a person suspected of shooting an officer, the LA Times reports. The drones can also be used for searches and during natural disasters. 

The regulations also stipulate that a high-ranking officer must approve each use before a drone takes flight, and that all flight requests, approved or rejected, be logged and submitted to the Police Commission in quarterly reports. The reports will be made public. The program will launch in 30 days and will include two drones.  

But the community is concerned despite the police department's promise of strict oversight and rules. In 2014, the LAPD first floated the idea of using drones, but the community successfully shot down the initiative with protests. This week, amid the protests in front of the LAPD's headquarters, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition sent letters urging police commissioners to kill the program.

The Police Commission will review the drone program at the end of the pilot.

Published on: Oct 19, 2017