LOS ANGELES—The Los Angeles Police Department’s Metropolitan Division, Special Weapons and Tactics Team (SWAT) used a small unmanned aerial system (sUAS) for the first time during a barricade incident with a robbery suspect.

According to the LAPD Blog site, in July 2018, a pilot program commenced which would allow the Police Department to use these devices to de-escalate dangerous situations. The sUAS would be used in limited circumstances, under strict guidelines that consider community concerns and privacy interests. For accountability, the device would be used only by a team of officers with specific training, and with prior approval from a Command Staff Officer (commander or above), as well as the Commanding Officer of Counter Terrorism and Special Operations Bureau.

On December 13, 2018 at around 9:40 p.m., three suspects robbed a convenience store in the 4900 block of Santa Monica Boulevard. During the robbery, two of the suspects entered the establishment, one who was armed with a firearm demanded that the clerk open the register. The suspects took money from the register and fled in a vehicle where the third suspect was waiting. During the investigation, Northeast Area detectives identified the suspects involved in the robbery. Two of the suspects were arrested by detectives, but the third suspect remained at large.

On January 9, 2019 at around 5:45 a.m., Metropolitan Division police officers who were in the area looking for the third suspect went to an apartment in the 300 block of North Berendo Street. They knocked on the door and a female came out of the apartment to meet them. She closed and locked the door behind her.

Officers and detectives at the scene were utilizing investigative techniques which led them to have a strong belief that the suspect was still inside the apartment. Since the suspect refused to exit and believing the suspect could be armed with a firearm, SWAT was requested to the location at around 8:30 a.m.

The stand-off with the suspect lasted approximately nine hours. The LAPD’s specialized sUAS pilot (SWAT officer) used the aircraft to find the suspect who was hiding in a second-floor apartment. During that time, SWAT utilized various types of communication strategies, tear gas, and ultimately the sUAS. This was the first time a sUAS was used since the approval of the pilot program. It was used after the tear gas was ineffective in flushing out the suspect. The sUAS was flown outside of the windows of the suspect’s apartment, but the suspect was not seen with the sUAS. After several hours, the suspect who was hiding in the attic space of his apartment, was found and taken into custody by officers, without further incident. The names of the suspects have not been disclosed to the public.

During the operation of the sUAS, video footage was captured by the sUAS. The LAPD is planning to make the video footage available to the public as a commitment to transparency and constitutional policing. To read the entire policy to learn more about how the LAPD is deploying the sUAS and the restrictions of their use visit lapdonline.org/SUAS.