News and Commentary

New Policy Will Allow LAPD To Record And Store Aerial Footage Of Protests
A Los Angeles Police Department helicopter seen flying over the LAPD Academy during a ceremony in honor of the 150th Anniversary of the LAPD in Los Angeles, California.
Ronen Tivony/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

A new policy will allow the Los Angeles Police Department to begin recording and storing aerial footage of protests, demonstrations, or other large-scale gatherings on election night and beyond.

According to the L.A. Times, the approval came last week “via a unanimous Police Commission vote to accept a donation of $2,150 worth of recording equipment” from a foundation “that has long bankrolled equipment desired by the LAPD but not budgeted for or prioritized by the city.”

The outlet went on to report that Deputy Chief Peter Zarcone, who leads the Counter-Terrorism and Special Operations Bureau, “said it was the LAPD’s specific intention to use the equipment to record protests.”

Dr. Melina Abdullah, lead organizer of Black Lives Matter’s L.A. chapter, said she was not surprised by the recent change, calling it “the height of state repression and surveillance,” adding, “it’s criminalizing our right to protest.”

The former guidelines permitted the real-time transmission of video from LAPD’s helicopters to commanders on the ground but did not allow those images to be recorded or stored.

More from the LA Times:

The new equipment – including two recorders, two mobile hard drives and two video encoders – will “allow the footage to be preserved, expanding the Department’s operational readiness and capacity,” the LAPD wrote in its pitch to the commission for approval of the donated equipment.

 Zarcone said that the LAPD keeps records on when aerial filming is requested and when it is approved but no explicit policies exist around what types of events can be recorded. He said footage recorded from the helicopters would probably be held indefinitely, just like body-camera footage and police dashboard video.

Mohammad Tajsar, an attorney with the ACLU of Southern California, cautioned that the video documentation could present privacy invasion concerns. He warns that law enforcement could use the surveillance feeds in conjunction with other technologies, such a s facial recognition software.

“We’re heading for a real nightmare scenario where the LAPD’s secretive technology can identify anybody from a crowd of protesters with a click of a mouse,” he told The Times.

According to the L.A. Daily News, LAPD Assistant Chief Horace Frank said the department would only approve recording the feeds if there’s “an escalation of criminal activity,” referencing civil unrest that took place across L.A. County earlier this year.

RELATED: Black Lives Matter Issued Demands, Urged Crowd To ‘Disrupt White Capitalism’ At Weekend L.A. Rally

“When we had looting going on at the Grove, that would’ve been a perfect use of this,” Frank said. “At the time, we didn’t have the equipment to record everything that was going on.”

The Daily News notes, LAPD already reviews similar footage shared on social media, broadcast by television news, and captured from surveillance cameras to identify and find suspected looters and other criminals.

RELATED: REPORT: Los Angeles County Sheriff Warns ‘Zero Tolerance’ Policy For Looters, Rioters, and Violence In Election Day Aftermath

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