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Aerial surveillance of Compton provokes backlash

The L.A. County Sheriff's Department temporarily tested aerial surveillance over the city of Compton two years ago.
April 24, 2014 1:57:10 PM PDT
The L.A. County Sheriff's Department temporarily tested aerial surveillance over the city of Compton two years ago, which has provoked controversy in the city.

People in Compton Eyewitness News talked to do not have a problem with crime-fighting surveillance cameras monitored by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department mounted throughout the city. But they do have a problem with an aircraft flying over the city taking pictures of everything that happens without residents knowing about it.

That was the case two years ago.

In 2012 the sheriff's department secretly sent a civilian aircraft over Compton for nine days, testing mass-surveillance technology. The aircraft captured video of everything that happened in the city.

Sheriff's officials wanted to know if the technology could help pinpoint crime in progress and identify suspects.

"Because it's Compton, they figure nobody is going to speak up, that people are so ignorant around here that they are not going to say a word," said Compton resident Unekia Watson. "But there are people out here that have brains and they are still concerned about the issues with it."

The sheriff's department released a statement, saying in part: "No notification to the residents was made because this system was being tested in a city where cameras were already deployed and the system was only being evaluated. Additionally, the limitation of the system would not allow for the identification of persons or vehicles. The system's lack of resolution in no way compromised the identity of any individual."

Following the test, the sheriff's department decided not to use the technology, saying it was not capable of enhancing crime-fighting efforts.

The city of Lancaster tested the same technology, but city officials and residents there were aware of it.

Compton resident Veronica Jackson says she would have voted for the surveillance flyovers if given a voice in the matter.

"If you are monitoring what's going on and you've got photographs, then we know who the real gangsters are," Jackson said.

The American Civil Liberties Union says no law enforcement agency has the right to use any surveillance technology without the public's knowledge.

"If local jurisdictions are thinking about adopting new surveillance technologies, they should do that only after a full public airing of that surveillance program and the kind of threat to privacy it entails," said ACLU attorney Peter Bibring.

Eyewitness News made multiple attempts to speak with Compton city officials, but received no response.


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