LOS ANGELES—The Los Angeles Police Commission approved on Tuesday, October 20 to allow a new drone pilot program for the Los Angeles Police Department.

The program is a one-year experiment in which, under certain circumstances, the LAPD’s SWAT teams would be allowed to deploy small, aerial drones to crime scenes. The proposal for the plan indicates that drones would be both unarmed and “shall not be deployed in violation of the law or Constitution.” All drone use would require a search warrant in advance.

Small Unmanned Aerial System (sUAS) refers to a remotely-operated, lightweight aircraft and its associated components. The Special Weapons and Tactics Team (SWAT) is a highly trained and specialized cadre of Department personnel under the command of Metropolitan Division and the Counterterrorism and Special Operations Bureau (CTSOB).

SWAT personnel respond to high-risk tactical incidents including hostage situations, active shooter incidents, and counterterrorism operations, and are trained to operate specialized equipment and technology to safely resolve incidents

The LAPD has been pushing for the program, so drones can be used to search for armed, dangerous criminals, hazardous materials, explosive devices and more. The proposal states that the drones would allow for “situational awareness.”  An sUAS shall not be deployed when weather conditions or other hazards prevent the safe operation of the aircraft and will not be deployed in a manner that exceeds the manufacturer’s recommendations. An sUAS shall not be deployed or used with any weapons capabilities including any non-lethal or less-than-lethal weapon systems.

LAPD Police Chief Charlie Beck indicated to the Police Commission, a program manager would be assigned from Air Support Division (ASD) to manage the pilot program and utilization of the device. The operation of the device would be limited to specifically trained personnel from the Special Weapons and Tactics team.

The program has been met with some criticism. The Stop LAPD Spying Coalition held a protest outside the LAPD Headquarters Tuesday to fight the proposal. Protestors chanted  “drone-free LAPD” and “no drones, LA.” Some have argued the use of drones could lead to invasions of privacy or police militarization. Chief Beck indicated those opposed were concerned that the Department could not be trusted to follow its own rules, regardless of how stringent the guidelines are designed. While those in support had similar concerns as those opposed to drone usage, but approved of adding new technology, but some of guidelines were too stringent and could hamper timely response to situations.

This is not the first time a police department has tried utilizing drones; a similar proposal was brought forward in Seattle in 2014. That proposal was not approved.

The proposal was passed by the Police Commission in a 3-1 vote. Los Angeles is now the largest city to ever pass such a program.

Written By George Morris and Donald Roberts