LANCASTER – In a packed City Council Meeting Tuesday, council members unanimously approved an agreement between the City of Lancaster and Aero View LLC to provide for an aerial surveillance system – or as Mayor R. Rex Parris called it – an ‘Eye in the Sky’.
Under the terms of the agreement:
- The City will pay $1.3 million to Aero View, LLC to acquire the aircraft, avionics, and other equipment required to develop and deploy a Law Enforcement Aerial Platform System (LEAPS) in Lancaster.
- The system will outfit a Cessna 172 with cameras to deliver imagery, via an encrypted communications link, to equipment at the Lancaster Sheriff’s Station. All surveillance operations will be controlled solely by Sheriff’s personnel with no imagery accessible in the aircraft.
- Aero View will provide an average of 10 hours of aerial surveillance daily at times to be determined by the sheriff’s department, or approximately 303 hours per month.
- After an initial 12 months of free service, the City will pay Aero View approximately $90,000 a month for service.
- Aero View will house its business development and operations in Lancaster for a period of 10 years from the date of execution of the Agreement.
Lancaster Sheriff’s Station Captain Bob Jonsen said the new system would allow law enforcement to follow a criminal’s movements from altitudes of 1,000 to 3,000 feet above ground.
“It will obviously be able to do this day and night using visible and infrared technology to track the images,” said Jonsen. “It can really zoom in to give us substantial criminal evidence that a crime is occurring and help us direct our resources more effectively.”
Jonsen stressed that the Sheriff’s department would completely control the data, surveillance and operation of the system.
“We will communicate where the system goes, where it will track and where we want it to shadow based on our calls for service,” he said. “The imagery recorded by the system will be directly downloaded by the sheriff’s department and only the sheriff’s department will have access to that information and video.”
“We are going to use this to our advantage to root out criminals, not just to be flying over and looking in your backyard,” Jonsen added.
Another advantage of the system, Jonsen said, is its ability to store up to two years worth of data that is instantly accessible to law enforcement.
“If we receive information on a crime that occurred in the past that we weren’t initially aware of, we will now have the ability to go in and extract this video to see if there’s evidence of a crime at that particular location,” he said. “That’s a great resource for us.”
In their comments, residents were strongly divided, either for or against the new system. Those who opposed the system saw it as an extreme invasion of privacy.
“The fact that somebody can go back and look for somebody who may have done graffiti means you can go back and look in our backyards 10 hours a day, seven days a week,” said Maureen Feller. “Our Fourth Amendment took quite a beating after 9-11 and it appears that the City of Lancaster will be the one who will be the death nail to it. I personally think anybody for this is treasonous and they’re a traitor to our constitution and our Bill of Rights.”
“I’m concerned that it [aerial surveillance system] is going to be used to come to 93534 where I live and pick and choose how they systematically get rid of whomever it is they want to,” said Wendy Williams. “I do think that our safety is the most important thing, but with that, at what cost?”
Others were strongly in favor of the new system.
“I’m one to say let’s be safe even if I need to give up some privacy,” said Mark Pierson. “Maybe because I’m not doing anything wrong.”
“I’m in favor of this 100% and whatever I can do to get it done,” said Elaine High.
The Law Enforcement Aerial Platform System will be deployed in Lancaster in early Spring of 2012.