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Lancaster to consider police surveillance by plane

November 7, 2011 |  2:33 pm

An example of the surveillance plane being considered by the city of Lancaster.
Lancaster is weighing a proposal to allow police to perform surveillance using a specially equipped small plane capable of recording people’s movements on the ground.

The plan would involve a $1.3-million, piloted Cessna 172 fixed-wing aircraft affixed with optical equipment that would circle the High Desert town at altitudes of 1,000 to 3,000 feet some 10 hours a day, Lancaster officials said. The technology, developed by Lancaster-based Spiral Technology Inc., would record video footage that would be transmitted to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

“We have worked closely with the sheriff’s department over the past four years to ensure we do everything to stomp out crime,” Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris said in a statement. “Now, the sheriff’s department will have an aerial advantage to add to their arsenal.”

The city’s initial plans to launch a so-called “eye-in-the-sky” aerial surveillance system two years ago were shelved after privacy concerns were raised by civil liberty advocates and some residents. Critics argued that the system bordered on government-sanctioned snooping. Others challenged spending money on a high-tech plane when helicopters could be used.

Parris and other supporters countered privacy concerns by arguing that the proposed systems would deliver images via an encrypted communications link to equipment at the Lancaster sheriff’s station, and that only police would have access to the video footage.

Lancaster sheriff’s station Capt. Bob Jonsen called the new technology “an effective and economical resource offering superior surveillance, patrol and investigative capabilities.”

The city plans to pay for the program using existing funds in the fiscal-year budget, city officials said. The charge for surveillance would run around $300 an hour, or about $90,000 a month. The aircraft would be fueled and maintained at a local Lancaster airfield.

Lancaster’s city council is scheduled to consider the proposal Tuesday. If approved, the program would start next spring, officials said.


Lancaster plane proposal criticized

-- Ann M. Simmons

Photo: An example of the type of surveillance plane equipped with optical technology being considered by the city of Lancaster to aid police. Credit: Spiral Technology, Inc.