LA County Sheriff's Dept. Used Spy Plane to Secretly Surveil Compton

By:  Joe Wolverton, II, J.D.
LA County Sheriff's Dept. Used Spy Plane to Secretly Surveil Compton

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department confirmed earlier this week that it paid a private company to conduct surveillance flights for nine days in 2012 over the Compton area of southeast Los Angeles, the Los Angeles NBC News affiliate reports.

As has become the custom of law enforcement officials forced to justify their violation of the Fourth Amendment, a spokesman for the LA County Sheriff claimed the purpose of the surveillance was to “enhance public safety and impact criminal activity.”

Some citizens of Compton were not mollified by this statement. "That is a part of our liberty. Come on now. They took it away! You been spying on us?" said former Compton Councilmember Barbara Calhoun, as reported in the NBC story.

Calhoun hit on the key constitutional question. The Fourth Amendment protects the right of the people "to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures" unless a warrant has been issued based "upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched."

There’s no threat to liberty, the police promise came in response to the protests of Calhoun and other Compton residents subjected to the warrantless surveillance.

"With respect to concerns about surveillance or being spied on as I know was being reported in the media, the footage that this high altitude camera that was on the bottom of the plane picked up would not make that possible," Captain Leonard McCray said.

According to the NBC reports, the aircraft that buzzed over Compton were part of the Persistence Surveillance Systems and they are equipped with cameras. The sheriffs said the images were “ineffective” despite having recorded video for more than six hours a day during the exercise.

On its website, Persistence Surveillance Systems boasts of its usefulness in law enforcement:

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