The sheriff avoided using the word 'drone' in his announcement, emphasizing that unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) would not be used to surveil citizens.
"The [UAVs] will not be used to spy on the public…Our policy forbids using [it] for random surveillance," he said, according to the Los Angeles Times.
McDonnell said that the $10,000 vehicles could possibly serve as lifesavers to deputies in perilous situations.
He said, "The dangers of law enforcement can never be eliminated. However, this technology can assist us in reducing the impact of risks on personnel."
Three hundred "certificates of authorization" have been issued to US law enforcement agencies for similar vehicles, with California receiving 30. Ewell explained that under the agreement the sheriff’s office must notify the FAA whenever the device is in flight, as well as detail its destination and purpose.
Capt. Jack Ewell of the department's special operations bureau, said that eight deputies have been trained to fly the drones, which can operate up to a mile from its operator and remain airborne for 20 minutes. However, Ewell said, deputies must keep their eyes on the craft as long as they’re operating it, to keep with Federal Aviation Association regulations.
Although the Sheriff’s Department had to submit a lists of tasks, of which surveillance was not included, FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said the agency cannot know how the police department uses the drones.
He said, "We don’t prohibit the type of flight activity that a law enforcement agency conducts,” and that, “We do have limitations on the conditions under which a drone can fly."
In a statement on domestic drone usage, the ACLU wrote, "US law enforcement is greatly expanding its use of surveillance drones, and private actors are also seeking to use the technology for personal and commercial use…Uniform rules should be enacted to ensure that we can enjoy the benefits of this new technology without bringing us closer to a 'surveillance society' in which our every move is monitored, tracked, recorded, and scrutinized by the government."