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Los Angeles Police Departments Explore Use of Drones

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A growing number of police departments in the United States now have drones and are exploring different ways to use them.

A recent study found that drone ownership by local police and public safety agencies across the U.S. has greatly increased since 2014.

The Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College in New York published the study results in April. The study found that at least 347 state and local police, fire and emergency agencies now have drones.

But there is debate in some cities about whether local police should be using drones, also known as unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS.

The Los Angeles Police Department, or LAPD, is considering a pilot program to experiment with drones in different situations. Some groups have protested its use of drones.

Hamid Khan is with the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition. He says the use of drones is another example of how some local security agencies have moved to militarize police forces.

An immigrant from Pakistan, Khan said he believes one of the true values of the United States is its culture of resistance. He has organized a campaign against drone use by local law enforcement.

Drones are currently being tested by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Captain Jack Ewell is with the department's Special Enforcement Bureau. He says UAS can act as a second pair of eyes for officers.

“It allows us to get a view of a particular situation that’s too dangerous to immediately put a human into. We could send this device up to the car and look right in and see, ok, yes he does have a gun. So we're not going to approach.'

The LAPD is seeking to begin a test program for drones. Horace Frank is deputy chief of the LAPD’s Counter-Terrorism and Special Operations Bureau. He says drone use would be limited.

“I can tell you that this department has absolutely no intention of weaponizing the UAS. In fact, the ones that we’re going to get, we’re going to make sure that it doesn’t have the capability of being weaponized.”

Some people in Los Angeles say they think it is a good idea for police to use drones to fight crime. “There’s a lot of bad guys out there. So you’ve got to keep the good guys safe,” said Eddie Lopez.

Damien Walker agrees. “I think in certain situations, they do need the drones,” he said.

Others, like Toriano Weatherspoon, distrust how police would use drones and fear their privacy could be violated.

“I think the drone would just be a new way of seeing what me, and people like me are doing, that are not doing anything.”

But both the LAPD and Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department say they do not plan to use UAS for observation purposes.

Hamid Khan is concerned that policies ruling how and when police use drones will expand over time.

But Ewell says his department has taken steps to make its police drone activities very public.

'We’re not going to go beyond the guidelines that we’ve set,' he said. 'We’re very transparent in our use of the unmanned aircraft. We alert the public every time we use it and where we’re using it.'

The LAPD is expected to hold public hearings in coming months to discuss its plans for a one-year pilot drone program. Police officials would also have to receive approval from the Federal Aviation Administration before carrying out the program.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Elizabeth Lee reported this story for VOA News. Bryan Lynn adapted it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

We want to hear from you. Do you think police departments should use drones as part of their work? Write to us in the Comments section, and visit our Facebook page.

Words in This Story

drones n. small, pilotless aircraft

allowv. permit

particularadj. a certain kind

approachv. walk up to

absolutely adj. fully, completely

intentionn. a plan to do something

capabilityn. ability to do something

certain adj. for sure

transparent – adj. easy to notice or understand

alert – v. notify people of something in an urgent manner

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