The Law Enforcement Aerial Platform System (LEAPS) is designed to aid the L.A. County Sheriff’s department in fighting crime and providing quicker response times for other emergencies.
“At the end of the day what we have is Defense Department security on a civilian budget,” said Mayor R. Rex Parris, during a press conference. He added that this project has been in the works for four years now. The City of Lancaster has partnered with Aero-View LLC for this project and will receive the first 12 months of service and operations at no cost to the city.
LEAPS utilizes a Cessna 172 platform that has been modified by Spiral Technology Inc. to use aerial video surveillance that produces both visible and infra-red images, making it effective both day and night. The LEAPS aircraft will operate for 10 hours per day of continuous surveillance. The system will be operated by a dispatcher who controls the view of the camera and sends orders to the pilot regarding where to go. The dispatcher has the ability to zoom the camera in/out and engage in tracking mode. While in tracking mode, the dispatcher can lock in on a particular item such as a car or person until ground units are able to reach the person of interest.
According to Parris, the only way to reduce crime is to create “certainty of apprehension.” With LEAPS, the Sheriff’s Department will have a “virtual response time” of less than five minutes to assess any situation that may arise. While the system is being promoted as a crime-fighting tool, it will also be used to assess natural disasters such as earthquakes and fires.
According to Capt. Bob Jonsen, from the Lancaster Sheriff’s Station, LEAPS can follow a criminal target at altitudes ranging from 1,000 to 3,000 feet and at 1,500 feet an officer can see what a suspect is wearing. Jonsen described it as “the ultimate tool” in fighting crime because it provides a “birds-eye view” of the city. The system operates in the Wi-Fi bandwidth and will therefore not interrupt the normal Air Traffic Control systems while carrying out its missions.
Parris also addressed concerns about privacy stating that we need to protect the civil liberties of our law-abiding citizens. He added that he “thinks Google is far more invasive” and LEAPS is a reasonable compromise in aerial surveillance. All information collected from the LEAPS system is sent in an encrypted format back to the sheriff’s station for analysis. The pilot is unable to see any of video surveillance being recorded while he is in flight. Parris believes the system will create a greater accountability and protect officers from false accusations because everything will be collected on tape. He added that it’s the “human condition” to behave better when we know we’re being watched.
The LEAPS system is an addition to the Lancaster Sheriff’s department and will not replace current patrol cars. LEAPS is a fuel-efficient, low noise aircraft that is maintained locally at the William J. Fox Airfield in Lancaster, Calif. Spiral Technology Inc. and Aero View LLC are both local, veteran-owned companies.