LOS ANGELES – A civilian commission overseeing the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department called Thursday for an end to the agency’s use of a drone during law enforcement operations, but Sheriff Jim McDonnell said the device is too important to ground.
The Civilian Oversight Commission voted 5-4 to call for the grounding of the drone program, which began in January. Critics have decried the use of the drone, fearing possible “mission creep,” suggesting the drone could be used for spying and could one day be armed or be deployed as a weapon.
McDonnell, however, said that while he respects the commission’s input, the drone program “is too important as a public safety tool” to end.
“I will not face the loved ones of a victim whose life could have been saved by our ability to deploy (a drone),” McDonnell said.
“We have used the (drone) judiciously, only five times since the program launched nine months ago,” he said. “These include two search-and- rescue missions for a missing 5-year-old Pasadena boy, one search-and-rescue for a missing woman whose car was found in Malibu and two active shooter situations where the (drone) allowed for the safe search for additional victims.
In each of these situations, the (drone) was deployed only in circumstances that met the strict criteria of our department policy and FAA regulations,” McDonnell said. “It is unarmed, will remain unarmed, will not be used in any manner that violates the constitutional rights of individuals.”
McDonnell said in January the $10,000 drone would be used only for search-and-rescue operations, bomb detection, hostage situations and other critical incidents.