Following a request from the Sheriff’s Civilian Oversight Commission, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) recently completed an online survey regarding the use of its Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS). The feedback from the general public showed that 89% of those that responded supported the use of the UAS platform for emergency or life-threatening situations.

During the two week survey period, 3,054 responses reflected that half of those individuals were familiar with the UAS platform and the other half were unfamiliar with the program, before learning about it through the survey and detailed information provided by the Department. Supportive comments from those surveyed included, “If it keeps people safe I’m all for it” and “I feel it would allow the LASD better assess how to help in a large variety of circumstances where human or helicopters are not available or able to safely assess needs or a dire situation.”

The results reflected that 11% of the respondents did not approve, citing concerns such as “No, privacy has potential to be misused in low income areas racial profiling etc.” and “I am against the LASD using UAS for any other purposes. The invasion of privacy by flying over private property without a search warrant is of ultimate concern.”

Many of the concerns over issues such as personal privacy were addressed in the Department's initial news conference and news release about the program. The Department’s video explained the policy and very restrictive authorized uses of the UAS system. Sheriff McDonnell emphasized that the Department’s mission of the program is to protect lives and property of residents and visitors of Los Angeles County. The system will only be used in a constitutionally and legally sound manner, and in compliance with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations.

Sheriff Jim McDonnell saw the importance of answering the public’s questions or concerns by providing an advisory video and text outlining the intended uses of the UAS system. Information about the UAS program and the request for feedback were distributed directly to radio, television and print media outlets, and were also posted on various social media platforms.

Since January, 2017, the UAS program has been used in five search and rescue operations and one incident involving a dangerous, armed gunman.

“We have always, from the very first day, wanted to be completely transparent,” stated Captain Ewell from the Sheriff’s Special Enforcement Bureau. “The UAS can be deployed quickly and provide close-up views of uncertain, isolated or hostile situations. This new tool will provide safety for Deputy Sheriffs and community members approaching the incident.”

Authorized missions for UAS rescue deployment include;

-Search and rescue missions
-Barricaded suspects
-Hostage situations
-High-risk tactical operations
-Hazardous material incidents
-Fire-related incidents.
 
The UAS will not be used for random surveillance or and any other situation which would violate Department policy or Fourth Amendment constitutional rights.

The survey consisted of four questions:

1. Are you familiar with LASD’s use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS)?

2. Do you support LASD’s use of UAS in the following scenarios? Search and rescue missions, explosive ordnance detection missions, disaster response, barricaded suspects, hostage situations, active shooters, hazardous materials incidents, fire-related incidents, and other high-risk tactical operations.

3. What are your general feelings about the use of UAS by LASD? Please provide your comments:

4. Please enter your zip code
 
The news conference and the Department’s original news release can be found at the following links:

Video: http://bit.ly/UASVideo  News Release: http://bit.ly/UASinfo  
 
Sheriff’s Information Bureau – Newsroom
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department
Hall of Justice - First floor
211 W. Temple St, Los Angeles, CA 90012
213-229-1700

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Jim McDonnell, Sheriff
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department