SoCal Man Monitors Police with His Own Drone

Friday, June 27, 2014
Daniel Saulmon

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), under fire by privacy advocates, has temporarily packed up its surveillance drones, but that probably won't deter Daniel Saulmon from continuing to monitor the department with his.

The Torrance resident, who has for years posted sometimes-contentious videos on his website of police shot with a hand-held camera, recently upped his game by deploying his own drone all around the Southland. He zooms in on police DUI checkpoints, traffic stops and other places where he suspects potential misconduct by the authorities.

He also flew his drone over Staples Center in downtown L.A. where a week ago fans downed another drone, suspected by some of belonging to the police, while celebrating the Kings' Stanley Cup championship.

That downed drone did not belong to the police, and on Tuesday the department announced the two it had received from the Seattle Police Department in May were being turned over to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which paid for them, until the city settles on a drone policy, federal regulations are sorted out and public outrage dies down.

“They just got eaten alive,” LAPD Lieutenant Phil Smith told the Los Angeles Times about why Seattle police sent the drones to L.A. “They said it’s not worth the political pressure and the negative word that’s going out on them.”   

Every day seems to bring some new insight and policy response to the growing use of drones in the public and private sector. Last month, the National Park Service announced it was banning drones from national parks, where the buzzing aircraft annoyed visitors while providing breathtaking videos for YouTube viewers.

Federal law (pdf) anticipates the introduction of drones into U.S. airspace by September 30, 2015. The FAA is supposed to have operational regulations in place three months later. So cities, counties and states are lining up on the runway for a chance to participate.

Sheriffs in the counties of Alameda and San Mateo made a play for drones last year, both of which ended after noisy objections were raised.

Worries about safety in the skies and privacy on the ground are proliferating as the drone industry, spawned by their armed military use around the world, is just beginning to ramp up. Ars Technica reported on Monday that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) isn't going to let Amazon deliver its products with drones anytime soon (pdf).

That tidbit was buried in a pronouncement by the FAA that anyone flying a model airplane (the document does not refer to drones) within five miles of an airport needed permission from the control tower. The rule (pdf) also forbids using model aircraft to deliver packages to people for a fee.

That has been the FAA's stance since 2007, although the courts have questioned whether the policy has gone through the proper public comment process.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Drones in L.A.: South Bay Man Flies Aircraft to Monitor Police (by Joseph Serna, Los Angeles Times)

LAPD's Two Drones under Lock-and-Key by Feds Until Rules in Place (by Joseph Serna, Los Angeles Times)

FAA Grounds Amazon’s Drone Delivery Plans (by  David Kravets, Ars Technica)

LAPD: Drone above L.A. Kings Fans Outside Staples Center Wasn't Ours (by Joseph Serna and Cindy Chang, Los Angeles Times)

LAPD Acquires 2 Drones, Promises to Barely Use Them and Won’t Call Them Drones (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

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