Oakland, a hotbed of political activism, may serve as the model city for the deployment of police spy drones, Ars Technica reports:
Since Congress passed legislation in February ordering the FAA to fast-track the approval of unmanned aerial vehicles (i.e. drones) for use by law enforcement agencies, police and sheriff departments across the country have been scrambling to purchase the smaller, unarmed cousins of the Predator and Reaper drones which carry out daily sorties over Afghanistan.
California’s Alameda County (which encompasses Berkeley and Oakland) has become one of the central battlegrounds over the introduction of drones to domestic police work. Earlier this year, County Sheriff Gregory Ahern raised the hackles of local civil libertarians by declaring his intention to purchase a drone to assist with “emergency response.”
Were Alameda County to purchase a drone, it would set a precedent in California, which has long been an innovator in law enforcement tactics: from SWAT teams (pioneered in Delano and Los Angeles) to anti-gang tactics such as civil injunctions.
However, the Alameda County Sheriff will have to wait until next year for its drone proposal to even be considered. In a rapid-fire sequence of events, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and the Electronic Frontier Foundation succeeded in forcing the Board of Supervisors to pull a last-minute agenda item from the December 4th meeting that would have approved $31,646 in grant money from the California Emergency Management Administration for purchasing a UAV.
Other California law enforcement agencies are eager to purchase drones. Documents reveal the San Francisco Police Department had a $100,000 request to purchase a Remotely Piloted Vehicle rejected by the local Urban Area Security Initiative, a regional Homeland Security administrative agency. In San Diego, where the Border Patrol already operates several Predator B drones for reconnaissance along the US-Mexico frontier, County Sheriff William Gore announced his intention to purchase an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) earlier this week.