Going against privacy advocates all across the district, the Los Angeles Police Department just approved a drone program that should initially last for one year, but that could end up benefiting officials elsewhere who are looking into expanding their own surveillance programs.
This move makes L.A. the largest city in the country to have embraced this type of policy and the first to openly ditch the need for a warrant while doing so.
While the LAPD swears the new program will only be used in “tactical situations, searches or natural disasters,” the use of the technology can be allowed to proceed with the OK of a “high-ranking officer,” meaning that cops may end up employing the use of drones even if they don’t fall under one of the categories mentioned previously. Without a legal framework with safeguards that allow for the persecution of officers who abuse their power, the program’s rules are sure to be broken. As a result, the privacy of Los Angeles residents is in jeopardy.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California has criticized the program, reminding the LAPD that LA residents aren’t adequately protected by the agency’s new rules. The ACLU also reminded officials that the plan to allow officers to make use of drones does not take into account public opposition to the program.
Unfortunately, the LAPD has a history of introducing enforcement programs that end up being implemented all across the country, such as the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams, which were first widely used by the LAPD in the 1960s during the racially charged Watts Riots.
By implementing military-style raids using military grade equipment and tactics, the LAPD helped to kickstart the long-lasting process that has transformed our local police departments and that is often referred to as police militarization. With the implementation of the drone program, which is run entirely by the police department and without any oversight, we can make a prediction that other local police departments will follow suit. As such, we will end up with a local police force that is both fully militarized and fully equipped for total surveillance powers that will serve as an example to others.
When Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the federal government’s use of questionable surveillance programs to spy on common Americans, many libertarians felt that for the first time, the country was truly concerned about privacy. But despite the advocacy of so many groups standing against giving the government massive surveillance powers, what we’re seeing with this new LAPD program is that a lot must still be done if we want to change policy effectively.