LA Police to debate drones

European drone debate ‘just not happening’

Drone flying:  LAPD   to hold  public hearings  on the use of drones. Photograph: Philip Toscano/PA Wire

Drone flying: LAPD to hold public hearings on the use of drones. Photograph: Philip Toscano/PA Wire

Thu, Jun 5, 2014, 01:00

The Los Angeles Police Commission is set to hold a series of public hearings to give the public a chance to weigh in on the use of drones by the local police department.

The LAPD confirmed this week it has received two drones from their Seattle counterparts, who themselves had to ground their plans to use the drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), after public outcry on the matter.

Ben Hayes of Statewatch – a long-established not-for-profit organisation which monitors EU civil and state liberties – told The Irish Times that while the LAPD move was indicative of “a huge debate that has resulted in legislation either restricting or putting caveats on the use of drones” in a number of US states, in Europe a similar debate is “just not happening”.

In an email to The Irish Times, Chris Ozmun a PR spokesman for Draganfly Innovations – whose Draganflyer X6 UAVs are the ones currently under lock and key at LAPD offices – said that in the case of US usage of the devices, “public safety agencies must not only follow federal, but local regulations regarding the use of unmanned systems and their data”.

The X6 UAVs are equipped with camera, video and infrared capabilities. According to an LAPD statement, they will only being considered for “narrow and prescribed uses” – such as keeping an eye on hostages or suspects barricaded in a building – rather than keeping a watchful gaze over citizens.

Ozmun said the Canadian company currently supplies its drones to “many agencies in the United States, including Mesa County Sheriff’s Department [in Colorado] and Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Department [in North Dakota]”.

Last year it was widely reported that drones were purchased for use by the PSNI during the G8 Summit in Fermanagh to help monitor particular key sites at a reported cost of over €1.2 million.

Statewatch’s Hayes helped produce a report earlier this year entitled ‘Eurodrones Inc’ looking into the growing drone industry in Europe which concluded that “The EU’s drone policy has evolved into a coherent action plan to remove the regulatory and technical barriers that currently limit the flight of drones in civilian airspace”.

Hayes’ co-author on that report, Chris Jones, produced further research last month in which he said there was evidence which strongly suggested that in the UK, “the Serious Organised Crime Agency, the predecessor to the National Crime Agency, may have acquired the use of drone technology in late 2012”.

According to Hayes: “You can pretty much put anything on a drone – telecommunications interception equipment, things that track or target people so we would like to see a proper debate about what these things are going to be used for.”

Ole Aguirre, vice president of Business Development with Norwegian drone developers Proxy Dynamics said: “police forces in Europe are starting to try out this technology” on the back of “very effective use” in military operations over the last decade.

Police forces, she said, are “particularly interested in tactical small UAV’s for surveillance and reconnaissance, as many of these platforms are man portable and fit into a patrol car”.