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LA sheriff used ‘spy’ plane over Compton

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POSTED April 24, 2014 7:16 p.m.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department used a camera-laden surveillance plane to observe the city of Compton during a test program two years ago that wasn’t revealed to city leaders or residents, according to a report.

People in the city of 96,000 have mixed feelings about the monitoring, with some saying it would help ensure public safety and others decrying an invasion of privacy, the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday.

For nine days in early 2012, the small Cessna outfitted with a dozen wide-angle cameras beamed images to a sheriff’s station, where deputies observed fender benders, necklace snatchings and a shooting.

The plane, owned by Ohio-based Persistent Surveillance Systems, flew at 10,000 feet in a loop about 4 miles wide. Officials said only images tied to known crime scenes received scrutiny. Compton contracts with the Sheriff’s Department for police services.

The test was part of a larger effort by the department to use aerial surveillance for crime-fighting in the sprawling collection of communities it patrols. Around the same time, the sheriff was launching a similar aircraft observation program 80 miles north in the desert city of Lancaster, the newspaper said.

But while Lancaster’s effort was publicized and debated at City Council meetings, Compton residents and elected leaders were not notified about the test in that city.

And that doesn’t sit well with Mayor Aja Brown.

“There is nothing worse than believing you are being observed by a third party unnecessarily,” Brown told the Times. “We want to assure the peace of mind of our citizens.”

After learning this week of the surveillance, Brown proposed a “citizen privacy protection policy,” to require public notification the next time authorities deploy monitoring equipment.

“Why are we the target?” asked Compton resident Ellen Harris, 67. “As citizens we deserve (to know). We are not all criminals... It’s an invasion of privacy.”

Bob Nelson, an 87-year-old World War II veteran, said technology can help make the public safer.

“I see nothing wrong with it myself,” he told the Times.

The Sheriff’s Department defended its actions in the program, saying that it was short-lived and that Compton residents already had a sense that they could be under surveillance because they had been told of other on-ground video monitoring in the city.

The pilot program was first outlined earlier this month by the Center for Investigative Reporting, a Berkeley-based nonprofit.


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