A majority of Los Angeles County Sheriff Civilian Oversight commissioners say they want Sheriff Jim McDonnell to stop flying a drone used in law enforcement operations.
The aircraft was unveiled by the Sheriff’s Department in January and has been deployed four times, mostly in search-and-rescue missions. The department has said the 20-inch-long unmanned aircraft system, which cost $10,000, would strictly be used in high-risk tactical operations—fires, bomb detection and hostage situations—but not surveillance.
Activists, however, have warned of possible “mission creep,” expressing fears the drone could be used for spying and could one day be armed or be deployed as a weapon.
In 2012, the sheriff’s department used a plane to secretly shoot video footage of Compton streets to catch criminals. The operation was widely criticized once it was discovered. The Los Angeles Police Department acquired two drones in 2014 but never launched them after protests about potential surveillance uses.
Four of the eight members present at the monthly public meeting Thursday of the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission voted against authorizing a set of strict recommendations that would have spelled out how the department should manage its drone program, the Los Angeles Times reported.
One of the recommendations was for McDonnell to “explicitly and unequivocally state” he would not allow the drone to be armed, and other suggestions called for precise reporting on the use of the device, according to The Times.
The four members voting against the recommendations prepared by an ad-hoc group of commissioners who spent weeks studying the matter said at the meeting and afterward that they oppose the department’s use of drones altogether. A fifth member was absent.