Compton Secret Surveillance: LA Sheriff’s Dept Tested Plane with Cameras to Observe City

Associated Press | April 25, 2014

LOS ANGELES—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.

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.

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Photo credit: (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times / April 23, 2014

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