Two hand-me-down miniature helicopter drones given away for free by Seattle after a political uproar there are now under lock and key in Los Angeles, where a police commission vows to keep the aircraft grounded until it approves rules for their limited use.
The LAPD says the newly acquired Draganflyer X6 pilotless choppers, equipped to carry video cameras and night-vision lenses, are intended for SWAT-team use against armed suspects who may be barricaded alone or with hostages.
But echoing objections aired in Seattle, civil libertarians in California's largest city say law enforcement use of airborne robots raises questions about privacy rights, the limits of government powers to snoop on its citizens and the militarization of police agencies.
Although police in both cities have said the drones would never carry weapons, the deployment of pilotless aircraft has drawn associations with covert US missile strikes in places such as Pakistan and Yemen.
Seattle police originally purchased the drones in 2010 with an $80,000 federal grant, but a plan to deploy them to search for missing persons and fugitives and to assist in certain criminal investigations was scrapped last year in the face of community opposition.
The drones were given to Los Angeles free of charge earlier this summer, though they are to be kept in federal possession until the LAPD devised protocols for their use.