Law enforcement accountability may once again soar over Los Angeles residents. And it will have happened at the hands of a commission meant to serve civilians.
Last month, the Los Angeles Police Department held community meetings across the city to discuss a proposal to allow officers to use drones. The proposal will be voted on by the Los Angeles Police Commission, a board comprised of civilians and officers appointed by the mayor.
In a community meeting with Westside residents, officers said the department would only use drones to avoid risking officers’ lives, such as in firefights. The LAPD, however, is notorious for its misuse of power. Drones would, at best, only further strain the department’s relationship with the people it’s sworn to protect, and are likely to open the floodgates to more ethics violations by its officers.
The Police Commission needs to reject the proposal to allow the use of drones. The department’s precarious relationship with the public and its penchant for excessive use of police power make it clear that approving the drone proposal would do far more harm than good to LA residents.
There are a variety of reasons why we should be worried about allowing the LAPD to use drones.
The LAPD already made headlines four years back for using StingRay surveillance technology to gather citizens’ phone numbers without warrants. Drones can similarly be used to spy on residents, and there is always the possibility that officers will extend the use of these devices beyond what the commission approves.
Moreover, drones only exacerbate growing concerns about the LAPD becoming more militaristic. An internal LAPD report released earlier this year found officers are still resistant to the idea of creating positive relations with the people they serve, and the department’s inspector general said the department has yet to even analyze data about stops and searches to spot trends in bias and discrimination.
And we need look no further for evidence of these gargantuan problems than the LAPD’s use of specially trained officers last month to fatally shoot a suspect from a helicopter.
It’s clear residents have little reason to trust the drone proposal. There is a justified fear that drones will lead to new ways for the LAPD to misuse its power, and the Police Commission must realize how approving the proposal would continue the trend of bypassing residents’ concerns about the department.
Of course, it might seem as though the commission would innately be wary of these concerns. But voters approved Charter Amendment C in May, which is likely to lead the commission to be more lenient toward police officers and their proposals.
If the LAPD inappropriately uses drones to spy on residents, there would be little guarantee that the department would adequately punish the accused officers, or that it would enact sufficient reform – something we already saw in 2015 when the Police Commission president said the department’s implementation of body cameras was not up for debate despite residents’ concerns about how footage would be securely stored.
The LAPD has a long way to go before its drone proposal can be considered seriously. Until then, though, it needs to prove to us that the people it protects are truly in safe hands.