The trial’s rules restrict flights to SWAT team members in dangerous situations, such as when there’s a heavily armed suspect on the loose. Drones will also be allowed for search and rescue missions. Every flight has to be approved, documented and reviewed, and there’s a ban on facial recognition software. The Police Commission will receive and publish quarterly reports to track the drones’ performance.
Critics, however, are worried that what the police say they’ll do and what they’ll actually do are two different things. As we’ve seen in the past, the LAPD isn’t always forthright in its use of technology. Activists and lawyers are concerned that the police will be tempted to use drones for questionable surveillance (such as monitoring neighborhoods or tracking protesters), or that they’ll outfit the drones with weapons. The LAPD actually obtained two drones in 2014, but scrapped plans to fly them due to precisely these kinds of public objections — people aren’t necessarily going to warm to the idea just because there are a few guidelines in place.