The Californian city of Lancaster will be the first to experience a “new era in law enforcement surveillance” with residents set to be watched by a permanent eye in the sky which will beam constant video footage back to police headquarters including crimes in progress as well as “scenes of mundane day-to-day life.”A Cessna plane fitted with sophisticated video surveillance technology will fly loops around the city and send footage directly back to a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department dispatch center. Officials plan to add a second aircraft to the arsenal at a later date.“About a few hours into its maiden flight Friday, the plane’s video feed captured its first incident: a motorcycle rider who had crashed at 20th Street East and Avenue K. Using the video, deputies in the dispatch were able to help paramedics assess the situation before they got to the scene. Later, the department got word that a group fight was brewing at Eastside High School. The plane moved into position and conducted surveillance above the campus. No fight occurred,” reports the L.A. Times.According to a report by ABC 7, the camera can zoom in to a person walking down the street from three miles away. The system also has a 5 second response time, meaning it can swiftly pinpoint a car and track its movements indefinitely.Despite claims that the surveillance system will only target crimes in progress, officials admit that the video footage will be stored for two years and can be reviewed in case a crime or suspect was “unwittingly” captured on camera.Despite the fact that Mayor R. Rex Parris admits the city is cash-strapped, $1.3 million dollars a year will be invested into the project, the same amount of money it would cost to pay for five police patrol cars each with a two deputy crew.Lancaster resident David Abber called the program a “violation of the Fourth Amendment.” The ACLU looked into the matter and came back with a lukewarm response, stating that some of their fears had been allayed but not all.The program is unprecedented because, as the L.A. Times notes, “Lancaster appears to be the first city where a camera will send video continuously to the ground, to be used as an integral part of daily policing.”As we have previously highlighted, the idea of having a permanent eye in the sky, whether that be via manned aircraft or surveillance drones, remains the priority of law enforcement bodies across the country despite the significant costs involved during a time of economic hardship when some cities are struggling to afford vital services such as firefighters.Last year, the Ogden Police Department applied to fly an unmanned surveillance blimp at a height of just 400 feet over high crime areas of the city to watch for “suspicious activity.”The use of surveillance drones and blimps to carry out sweeping surveillance of the public with total disregard for privacy rights is expected to accelerate in the coming years. The FAA has forecast that 30,000 surveillance drones will be in U.S. skies by the end of the decade.Last month, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano told a House Committee on Homeland Security that the federal agency was working on deploying drones for purposes of “public safety.”As we reported earlier this year, the DHS is already using another type of airborne drone surveillance, also utilized to track insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq, for the purposes of “emergency and non-emergency incidents” within the United States.
The city of Lancaster plans to launch a new aerial surveillance system to monitor neighborhoods for crime. The technology, called the Law Enforcement Aerial Platform System, will be attached to a piloted single-engine Cessna. It’s basically a radar system that will give deputies a bird’s-eye view of what’s happening on the ground. The tool is similar to drones that are used by the military to survey war zones, with the difference that those are remote-controlled rather than attached to a plane. Authorities say the technology will prove invaluable for the city because it’s so large and spread out, and deputies can’t be everywhere at once. It could also help during natural disasters like fires or earthquakes by providing an aerial view of the situation. Opponents have expressed concerns about government snooping, but city leaders insist that the surveillance will only be used to fight crime. The Sheriff’s Department plans to deploy LEAPS for 10 hours a day, at a coast of about $300 an hour. That adds up to about $90,000 per month and more than $1 million per year — a hefty price tag in the cash-strapped city. But city officials say that it’s worth the investment to combat a recent spike in crime – 24 August 2012.