By Joseph Serna
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — A new anti-police-drone campaign says the risk of Los Angeles authorities abusing their power and spying on innocent civilians is too great to allow the department to start using the devices.
Members of a group of civil rights and community activists called the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition stood on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall on Thursday and announced the launch of a campaign aimed at keeping the department's two drones grounded for good.
They chanted, "Drone-free LAPD!" and "No drones LA!"
Coalition members said it is important for the public to limit the militarization of local law enforcement agencies, in light of the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
LAPD's arsenal includes armored vehicles, license-plate scanners and flash-and-stun grenades. But its drones are not the fixed-wing type the military is flying overseas, a department spokesman said.
"If we do deploy these, not sure we ever will, it'll be based on a strict set of written guidelines approved by the police commission," said Cmdr. Andy Smith. "Absent approval from the police commission and public acceptance, we're not going to use them. Chief Beck said if it compromises public trust, we won't use them."
The LAPD announced in May that it had acquired two Draganflyer X6 aircraft from Seattle police, which had to ditch the technology after significant public criticism.
But the LAPD has not used them, officials say. The drones are locked up in a federal building until police and the public agree on their use.
And that's where the group outside City Hall on Thursday wants the drones to stay.
"The LAPD, as an institution, has an undeniable legacy of mission creep," said Xander Snyder, a member of Restore the Fourth, a group that aims to limit government surveillance and preserve civilian privacy.
Though police officials suggest drones would only be used to gain better intelligence in tense situations, such as standoffs with a barricaded suspect, critics argued it would not be long before drones were used to monitor public spaces, protests and citizen's backyards.
"As a community, we're not here to be experimented on," said Jamie Garcia, a Boyle Heights nurse and member of the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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