California city takes to the skies to get a view on crime
The residents of Lancaster probably didn’t notice it, but a small Cessna aircraft on Friday flew high above the desert city, capturing hours of video and ushering in a new era in law enforcement surveillance.
The plane, equipped with sophisticated video equipment, is set fly a loop above the city for up to 10 hours a day, beaming a live video feed of what’s going on below to a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department dispatch center.
The camera will inevitably pick up scenes of mundane day-to-day life. But officials said they plan to use the video only to track reports of crimes in progress, traffic collisions and other emergency situations.
About a few hours into its maiden flight Friday, the plane’s video feed captured its first incident: a motorcycle rider who had crashed at 20th Street East and Avenue K. Using the video, deputies in the dispatch were able to help paramedics assess the situation before they got to the scene. Later, the department got word that a group fight was brewing at Eastside High School. The plane moved into position and conducted surveillance above the campus. No fight occurred.
It has become common for law enforcement agencies to use aerial surveillance, including streaming video, during breaking crime situations. Some are even beginning to use drones for police work.
But Lancaster appears to be the first city where a camera will send video continuously to the ground, to be used as an integral part of daily policing.