The city of Lancaster, California announced today its “Law Enforcement Aerial Platform System,” a radar system-camera attached to a single-engine Cessna that’s going to conduct surveillance over the city for ten hours a day. It’s kind of like a drone, only not. From KABC in Los Angeles:
The tool has similar capabilities as drones, which are used by the military to scan warzones and transmit live video from the battle field. However, the difference is that drones are remote controlled, whereas the LEAPS technology will be attached to a plane that will have a Los Angeles County deputy inside.
Surveillance video will be transmitted directly to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office, according to Wired, which notes the company providing LEAPS is a local one, Spiral Tech, one the California Commission for Job and Economic Growth has dubbed a "California Innovation All Star," no less.
Government Technology has more on the technology and its capabilities:
LEAPS uses both visible and infrared imagery for tracking. City officials said that at the closest level of surveillance, its new “eye in the sky” can identify the color of a person’s clothing, but facial details and license plate numbers will not be visible.
In an e-mail to Government Technology, Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris touted the crime-stopping and prevention advantages that aerial coverage will provide the city.
“Everyone knows you see more from above, cover a wider range of observance and are capable of more accurate pursuit with an aerial unit,” he said. The real-time value of LEAPS, Parris said, will be the ability to provide ground patrol units information on criminals’ movements.
LEAPS is reported to cost $1.3 million to launch and $1 million a year to operate (for 152 days worth of hours a year). The Lancaster City Council apparently approved it unanimously. Lancaster’s most recent budget (pdf) notes over the last five years "an overall loss of $15 million in the general fund. Public safety costs have risen $6 million over the same period of time." The budget points out transfer and release of state inmates as an example of "a number of challenges imposed by federal, state and Los Angeles County laws and policies that hinder economic development and threaten community safety."
Lancaster has tried to push an “aggressive” aerial surveillance system before. The Los Angeles Times reported on an effort in 2009 which included this choice two cents to close:
Antelope Valley blogs have been ablaze with chatter about the new program, both for and against.
Matthew Keltner, 28, a Lancaster high school teacher, wrote: "If having a measure of surveillance overhead is going to make the criminal-minded uncomfortable, and think twice before settling in Lancaster, or engaging in criminal activity, then what's wrong with it?
"I could care less if someone sees me doing water aerobics in my grandmother's pool," he added.
Until, of course, someone interprets that as a crime!
I’ll be talking about this development in domestic surveillance on RT America at 4pm ET.
Semi-related: Last year Lancaster’s mayor proposed broadcasting bird songs in the city.