Lancaster will soon begin filming its citizens from above, as a camera-equipped plane circles over the city under a controversial plan to track potential criminal activity.
The program, unanimously approved by the City Council this week, will utilize a Cessna 172 fixed-wing aircraft equipped with a recording device.
The plane will fly 10 hours a day, from altitudes of 1,000 to 3,000 feet as its pilot watches for robberies, drug deals, car accidents and other incidents. The footage will be sent in real time to the local Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department station.
"The point of this will allow us to look for emerging situations," said Mayor R. Rex Parris, who said his goal is to reduce crime.
"If there is a robbery going on, you can click on the car and follow it."
But concerned that some of Lancaster's 150,000 residents will be unwittingly filmed, and concerned about how the footage is handled, the American Civil Liberties Union has contacted city officials, seeking information about the program, according to Parris.
"They are acting like an aggressive bunch of lawyers," Parris said of the ACLU.
Representatives for the ACLU didn't reply to requests for interview.
Parris argued that by reviewing the footage, officials will be able to ascertain whether the Cessna is filming robberies. But critics fear it might also invade citizens' privacy, capturing more innocuous activities like nudesunbathing in the backyard.
"Every technology is capable of abuse. The trick is to make sure it's used correctly," said Parris. "You have to hold people accountable in how they use it."
During Parris' term, Lancaster has seen a dramatic drop in crime since 2007, when it had one of the county's highest rates. This year, the city saw a 16 percent drop in crime compared to the same period last year.
The plane will cost about $1.3 million to launch, while operating costs will run about $90,000 a month.
An aerial crime-fighting program was first proposed in 2009, but has been delayed because of cost issues, according to Parris.
A Cessna is far cheaper to operate and maintain than a helicopter, he said.
Some Los Angeles Police Department helicopters are outfitted with video recorders, according to LAPD officer Norma Eisenberg. But the recorders are intended to film incidents, like police chases. They aren't sent in the air simply to record indiscriminately, she said.
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