Eye in sky on crime upsets some residents of a Californian city

  • Sat Nov 28th, 2009 10:08pm
  • News

Los Angeles Times

LANCASTER, Calif. — A plan to patrol this Antelope Valley city with an airplane that would record the comings and goings of people on the ground has stoked the concerns of civil liberty advocates while being embraced by some residents who say they would support any means to crack down on crime.

The plane would circle the city 16 hours a day, recording video footage that would be transmitted to law enforcement officials, according to the plan. The plane, its designer said, would fly at an altitude of about five miles, making it all but invisible to residents.

A high-tech video camera could spot a home invasion robbery, detect car accidents and dispatch the appropriate personnel, and track unsuspecting criminals, according to local city and law enforcement officials. They contend it also would improve response time.

But some residents in the city of 145,000 fear the system would border on government-sanctioned snooping and could be used to spy on law-abiding citizens.

“We can instantaneously identify perpetrators and automatically track them for law enforcement,” said Dick Rutan, an aviator and the mayor’s personal pilot who is helping design the surveillance aircraft.

The Sheriff’s Department would operate the system and determine who and what should be monitored, Lancaster’s Mayor R. Rex Parris said. Designated deputies would be the only personnel allowed to view the recordings.

Wrote Matthew Keltner, a Lancaster high school teacher, “If having a measure of surveillance overhead is going to make the criminal-minded uncomfortable, and think twice before settling in Lancaster, or engaging in criminal activity, then what’s wrong with it?”