Civilian Overseers Tell Sheriff McDonald to Ground Drone

Ground LASD Drone

In its first nine months, the $10,000 device has hovered over hard-to-reach spots in Los Angeles County, searching for gunmen and missing people.

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department officials say the 20-inch-long unmanned aircraft system, equipped with a camera, has been deployed only five times out of the 1,000 events this year that could have used the special set of eyes.

But after months of public debate over possible surveillance and weaponization, the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission voted Thursday to call on the department to permanently ground its drone.

“The community has told us they’re already feeling over-policed and over-surveilled,” said Commissioner Priscilla Ocen, a Loyola Law School professor who’s been the most vocal opponent of the drone on the panel. She said the department’s search-and-rescue operation has done “an amazing job” for years, but can continue that work without the drone.

The decision — supported by five members and opposed by four — is not binding on the department, which can continue to fly the aircraft. The oversight group can issue formal advice to the department and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors but cannot subpoena documents or force the sheriff to act.

maya lauCapt. Jack Ewell, who heads the department’s special operations bureau, said members of the public have raised valid concerns about surveillance and safety, but he asked that they also look at the agency’s track record with the aircraft, which he called a “life-saving device.”

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Maya Lau
Los Angeles Times