Published On: Thu, Apr 24th, 2014

California residents split on use of spy plane to photograph their streets

In South Los Angeles, Compton residents are divided on the use of a “spy plane,” packed with cameras, used by the sheriff to monitor their streets. The single-engire craft just kept circling the city in a loop and residents eventually took notice.

Spy planes today, drones tomorrow? Image/Video Screen Shot

Spy planes today, drones tomorrow? Image/Video Screen Shot

While Lancaster’s effort was publicized and debated at City Council meetings, the Sheriff’s Department didn’t notify either Compton residents or elected leaders about the test. The LA Times article on Wednesday found residents divided on the issue as they sought more answers from authorities.

“There is nothing worse than believing you are being observed by a third party unnecessarily,” Compton Mayor Aja Brown said Wednesday. “We want to assure the peace of mind of our citizens.”

After learning of the surveillance pilot program, Brown proposed a “citizen privacy protection policy,” to require public notification when the authorities are going to use the monitoring equipment. Officials told The Global Dispatch that this counterproduction to the program, “if they alert the public” that they would be notifying the “potential criminals.”

Complaints by civil libertarians have following and critics from technology fields question whether the videos were detailed enough to be of any real use in court.

The Compton surveillance program had gone mostly unknown until the Center for Investigative Reporting, a Berkeley-based journalism nonprofit, reported earlier this month that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department had used the high-powered cameras to watch over Compton. The city contracts with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department for police services.

Company President Ross T. McNutt said he met with officials from both the sheriff’s Compton station and headquarters to try to sell them on his Hawkeye II system, which he said provided sweeping images equivalent to what would come from 800 video cameras.

McNutt said the company’s Cessna flew at 10,000 feet in a loop about four miles wide, with the cameras storing images from around the city, while beaming them to the sheriff’s Compton office and air headquarters in Long Beach. Only images tied to known crime scenes received close scrutiny, McNutt said.

“We start from reported crime scenes. That is the only way we get involved,” McNutt said. “So, if there is a home invasion robbery or a homicide, we look for people who are fleeing. Often, we can catch up to them in real time. We can find a house they fled to or a house they came from in the first place.”

The cameras, despite a total 192 million pixels of resolution, sweep such a wide area that each individual appears as a single pixel — not nearly discerning enough to detect race, sex or other distinguishing characteristics, McNutt said.

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About the Author

- Catherine "Kaye" Wonderhouse, a proud descendant of the Wunderhaus family is the Colorado Correspondent who will add more coverage, interviews and reports from this midwest area.

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