Irvine PD Approves Drones: Criminals and Cokeheads Beware!

Photo of the Brea United Church of Christ protesting against drone use.
Dec 16, 2017

If you or someone you know plans to commit a crime in Irvine in the next few months, chances are you’ll be caught by something distinctly un-human. On Sept. 25, the Irvine City Council ruled 4-0 to allow the Irvine Police Department (Irvine PD) to purchase and deploy a single police drone for $29,000. The program will be named the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Team, and Irvine PD’s police drones will be implemented to help provide aerial video of active crime scenes, traffic collisions, natural disaster assistance, and to provide pictures for Irvine PD’s social media accounts. According to Lt. Bill Bingham of the Irvine PD, the drone will not be used in pursuit of a suspect fleeing by car, or to monitor Irvine’s non-criminal residents in any way.

Irvine PD didn’t say whether its officers or the City Council would use the drone to post thirst-trap pictures to the City of Irvine’s social media accounts, but don’t be surprised if you see an aerial photo of Irvine City Councilman Jeff Lalloway flexing shirtless in the middle of the Great Park appear on Irvine PD’s Instagram now that drones are in play.

“This is fantastic,” said Lalloway of the drone project. “I’m especially glad that the uses are very limited.” Lalloway was the first of Irvine’s City Council to applaud the proposed drone program.

Councilwoman Christina Shea seconded Lalloway’s approval, and even proposed that more drones be purchased. “I think that they should start with a minimum of two drones,” Shea said. The Councilwoman went on to state that adding an additional drone for $20,000 would save Irvine money, and increase safety. “I’m very pleased we’re one step ahead with technology. I’m very, very supportive and think our public will be.”

Despite Lalloway’s abundant approval, the Councilman was concerned that Irvine PD drones could be used to spy on the public. Irvine PD denies that its drones would be used to collect data or to monitor citizens, but with technology like drones misuse is always a possibility.

The bigger picture here is Irvine PD’s recent move toward a more automated police force and increased surveillance. Couple the drones with the Irvine PD’s already controversial Automated License Plate Reader 425 system, and it starts to feel like Big Brother is tracking every step you take in Irvine.

In July 2018, the Irvine Company, Irvine PD and Newport Beach PD were put on blast after the Electronic Frontiers Foundation reported that license plate info gathered by Automated License Plate Readers at the Irvine Spectrum, Fashion Island, and Tustin Marketplace was being shared with a technology vendor who sold the data to Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Click here to see Anthony Pignataro’s coverage of the controversy.

The data collecting firm responsible, Vigilant Solutions, has taken and sold over 2 billion photographs of license plates for over 3,000 police departments, according to The Atlantic.

Vigilant Solutions and the Irvine Company denied turning over information to ICE in a retaliatory article against Electronic Frontiers Foundation titled, “Stop Creating Fake News and Scaring People!

All it takes is for one idiot to misuse police drones once they’re in place. Even now, the only thing preventing the Irvine PD from constantly monitoring their citizens from the air is a handful of words. Hopefully, this breach of the Fourth Amendment–the right of the people to be secured in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable search and seizure–will help Irvine PD perform their duty of keeping the citizens safe. But for now, if you happen to be up late at night blowing lines in Irvine and feel the creeping paranoia of being watched by the government, you should close the blinds tight because now that paranoia is not entirely in your head. Maybe the government is watching you. Or, maybe you should lay off the yayo, Kevin. You’re not in college anymore. You’re 29 and it’s time to get a job and move out of your parent’s spare bedroom. *Disclaimer: The OC Weekly does not condone illegal drugs, or living at your parents house.

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