Living with cop drones in the SCV – the jury is out

LASD deputies watch an "unmanned aircraft system" in progress. Courtesy photo, the LASD.

Cop drones – love ‘em or hate ‘em – we won’t know officially what Santa Clarita Valley thinks of the unmanned aircraft for another couple of weeks as law enforcement continues to analyze our feedback.

The two-week survey seeking public input on the use of drones by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department ended Thursday but it’ll be another couple of weeks before we learn if the devices received a thumbs up or thumbs down verdict from the community.

In the meantime, the jury is out on the use of drones to help fight crime.

“They’re tabulating the results,” Captain Jack Ewell, of the LASD’s Special Enforcement Bureau told The Signal Friday.

A drone – referred to by the LASD as an unmanned aircraft system. courtesy photo, the LASD.

“Then they’re going to write a report,” he said, noting the public’s feedback on drones would be announced in about two weeks.

The SCV was part of a county-wide assessment of drone use as ordered by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

From June 29 to July 13, LASD officials gathered feedback about their use of Unmanned Aircraft System.

“Don’t call them drones,” Ewell said, joking – well, sort of joking..

LASD officials prefer the media and public refer to the “unmanned aircraft” as precisely that, as opposed to “drones” which, they contend, conjures up images in peoples’ minds of bomb-dropping aircraft used in military operations.

“We are restricted – by ourselves – as to how we can use them,” Ewell said. “We do this because people are concerned with privacy violations and flying over backyards,

“We see them as a life-saving thing,” he said.

In an “active shooter” situation, for example, a drone “can be used to get close the suspect to see where he’s hiding, Ewell said.

“In search and rescue situations, helicopters at times can’t get into a tight canyon but we can with these,” he said.

Using drones in “HazMat” or hazardous materials calls could very easily save lives, he said, referring to both civilians and first responders.

The drone – a vertically-mobile, remotely-controlled, flying tool with an on-board video camera is assigned to the Special Enforcement Bureau – is considered by law enforcement to be most beneficial to units under the SEB umbrella, including the Emergency Services Detail, Special Enforcement Detail, Arson/Explosives Detail, and the HazMat Detail.

“We’ve done some training in simulations,” Ewell said. “Where barrels of chemicals are burning, with the UAS, we could go in and read the labels on the drums to see what it is that’s burning.

“This way we know the size of the area we need to evacuate,” he said.

The use of drones by the LASD was announced in January by Sheriff Jim McDonnell after the department received approval from Federal Aviation Administration authorities authorizing their use in specifically defined incidents.

Twelve days later, a motion entitled “Transparency Regarding New Technology” was approved by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

The motion directed the Office of Inspector General to gather information regarding the LASD’s planned use of the drones.

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