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Sheriff's official: No 'Big Brother' with Compton air surveillance

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Los Angeles County sheriff's officials said Wednesday there were no "Big Brother" aspects to an airborne video-surveillance program over Compton that was tested in 2012.

Under the nine-day trial program in January 2012, a video camera was mounted on a small plane that was deployed for six-hour periods during the day, the department said.

The plane, which flew out of Long Beach Airport, was operated by a private company that provides airborne surveillance technology.

Nicole Nishida, a sheriff's spokeswoman, said the program was limited in scope and the department did not see a need to announce it because the city already used ground surveillance cameras in any areas.

“Citizens weren’t notified because cameras were already installed in Compton on the ground,” she said. “The Sheriff’s Department is always seeking to use advanced technology to improve its capabilities.”

She said there was no "Big Brother" aspect to the system, which captured a large area but without much detail. “It couldn’t distinguish a man from woman or SUV from a compact car. The images were black and white,” she said.

Officials said the department decided the program was not useful and dropped it after the test period.

The department said Compton was chosen, in part, because it features 10 square miles of flat topography. But the resolution of the video footage was not sufficient to allow authorities to identify people who might have been involved in breaking the law, according to the department.

"The images from the surveillance footage weren't clear enough," Nishida said. 

This month, the Bay-Area based Center for Investigative Reporting and the KQED public radio station reported on airborne surveillance systems used by law enforcement, including the program used in Compton.

The report noted people in Compton had heard little about the surveillance program.

The department said 20 surveillance cameras are deployed in city parks and monitored to help keep the community safe.

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