The Los Angeles Police Department received approval to use unmanned aerial systems (UAS) on a regular basis. Previously, the agency was only approved to use drones as a pilot program. The drones are approved for use by the SWAT team, which piloted drones during the pilot, and permissions were extended to the Hazardous Materials Unit and Bomb Squad.

The following circumstances were approved as permissible uses for drones, according to city documents:

  • Barricaded suspects
  • Active-shooter incidents
  • Assessments of explosive devices and explosions
  • Hostage situations
  • Natural disasters
  • Hazardous materials incidents
  • Search and rescue operations
  • Warrant services
  • Perimeter searches of armed suspects with superior firepower, an extraordinary tactical advantage, or who are wanted for assault with a firearm against a police officer.

The Board of Police Commissioners approved a $6,645 donation from the Wiliam H. Parker Los Angeles Police Foundation, allowing the LAPD to replace the drones used during the pilot with a new model — a DJI Mavic Enterprise Dual.

The new model is based on the same platform as the DJI Spark, which was approved and used during the pilot program, but features additional technology that was not available at the start of the pilot. The Mavic features extended flight time and improved sensors to operate in low- to no-light conditions.

The board also approved a donation of computer flight tracking software from a local tech company. The software will be used to provide detailed flight reports for all training and drone deployment operations.

The LAPD’s UAS pilot program lasted for one year, allowing the Metropolitan Division’s SWAT team to test the technology. During this time period, the UAS was deployed for four incidents and 171 practice flights. For all four incidents, it was determined that the use of the drone offered significant savings over the alternative — use of an airship and armored vehicle.

The decision was met with protests during the public meeting. The Los Angeles Times reported that activists were present at the meeting and argued that allowing drones for some use cases is a slippery slope. They said that once drone use is normalized, it can lead to the approval of use cases that violate civil liberties down the line, such as facial recognition.

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