Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department used a mass aerial surveillance system to monitor unwitting Compton residents in 2012. The deputies used a what’s known as “wide-area surveillance” from the Ohio-based company, Persistent Surveillance Systems, that filmed vast swathes of the city. The system uses a civilian aircraft fitted with a cluster of high-definition cameras in a setup not dissimilar from the U.S. military’s “Gorgon Stare” technology.
The aerial surveillance technology is yet another example of the militarization of the U.S. police, as technology developed for counter-insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan is used to monitor American streets.
Additionally, the program has the ability to “rewind” like a time machine, so the police are able to see past activities if a crime is reported. The owner of the technology, Ross McNutt, stated “We literally watched all of Compton during the time that we were flying, so we could zoom in anywhere within the city of Compton and follow cars and see people.” McNutt previously worked on wide-area surveillance for tracking down bombing suspects in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Increasingly, the “digital movement” in law enforcement is redefining the scope and shape of U.S. policing. The FBI, for example, is rolling out a mass facial recognition database (Next Generation Identification); police officers in Chula Vista, near San Diego, have already deployed mobile facial recognition technology to confirm the identities of crime suspects.
LA police already make use of their department’s “Real-Time Analysis and Critical Response Division”, which acts as a hub for a network of around 1,000 cameras–with the aim of not only rapidly responding to crime, but “pre-empting” it before it takes place. The center also has access to feed from social medial sites, news broadcasts, and data from license-plate recognition software. According to the The Center for Investigative Journalism, “There’s also a wall-mounted digital map of real-time reported crimes around Los Angeles that could provide analysts with valuable insight into when and where crimes are most likely to occur, where trends are emerging and where officers should be patrolling.”
(LA Real Time Analysis and Critical Response Division, G.W. Schulz/CIR)