LANCASTER – The Law Enforcement Aerial Platform System (LEAPS) is up and running in the skies over Lancaster, city officials announced Thursday. This means the city is now under constant surveillance by the sheriff’s department, who has a bird’s eye view of activities happening anywhere in the city.
“As of tomorrow (Aug. 24), every day of the week we’ll be capturing video,” said Lancaster Station Captain Bob Jonsen.
“This program, for a miniscule amount of money, is going to save a lot of lives,” said Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris.
Jonsen and Parris joined city officials at a press conference Thursday to unveil the new airborne crime fighting-tool and provide details on how it will function.
For at least 10 hours every day, the piloted Cessna 172, fitted with high-tech optical equipment, will surveil the entire city and record imagery at altitudes ranging from 1,000 to 3,000 feet above ground level.
“It has a central track on the outside of the city, and it continually goes around that track,” said Jonsen.
Only assigned LASD personnel will be privy to the information and video transmitted from the aircraft, which will be encrypted and fed directly to the sheriff’s station.
“The operators are going to be audited,” said Parris. “There isn’t going to be anybody looking in their girlfriend’s backyard, because there’s a record of it.”
When not responding to an incident, the system will be in surveillance mode, with the designated officer directing the pilot via an Ipad in the cockpit.
If a call comes in about a crime in progress, the operating officer will enter the location into the system. And within seconds, the officer will be able to zoom in and record images from the location while relaying the information to responding deputies, Jonsen said.
The system can also lock in and follow a criminal target from up to three miles away.
“You can see what they’re wearing, what color their shoes are, whether they’re carrying an object,” Jonsen said. “We can get this information to responding units and dramatically increase our effectiveness.”
LEAPS is also effective at night because of its infrared capabilities, Jonsen said.
The system allows the sheriff’s department to access up to two years of video data. So if a crime goes unreported, then is later discovered, authorities will be able to access case-relevant activity footage based on date and geographic location.
“We’ll be able to attach these videos to these cases, so in front of a jury, you’re going to have some pretty substantial evidence…” Jonsen said. “It’s going to make public defenders’ jobs a little more difficult.”
Jonsen said the system will not zoom in and record private property without good reason.
“I don’t foresee a reason to be on private property unless we’re investigating a crime,” he said. “We’re not going to be just randomly recording someone’s back yard.”
In acknowledging the privacy concerns of some residents, Parris said critics needed to educate themselves on the new system.
“Most of what people are afraid of doesn’t exist in this particular system…” Parris said. “I would wish that people would educate themselves before they decide whether it’s good or bad, because the criticism so far is from people who have no idea what the capacity of the system is.”
LEAPS was created by Aero View LLC and engineered and developed by Spiral Technology Inc. The city paid $1.3 million to Aero View to acquire the aircraft, avionics, and other equipment required to develop and deploy LEAPS. The aircraft is fueled, maintained and hangared at William J. Fox Field Airfield in Lancaster. The first 12 months of service and operations are at no cost to the city as part of the management agreement between Aero View and Lancaster. Read more on the agreement here.