Tom Zebra sure seems like an unusual guy. Wearing a t-shirt reading ''I record cops”, he rode his bike from Torrance to Manhattan Beach to meet me for a demonstration of his sleek, small, $1,400 remote-controlled drone, complete with a HD video camera. He makes it his business to travel around Southern California recording police activity, from officers in parking lots, to arrests, to traffic stops, whatever he can, and posts the results to his own YouTube channel. He sees it as his ''civic duty'', and besides that, he doesn't have a job at the moment, so he has plenty of time.
"If there’s wrongdoing in front of me Iwanna capture it, but more importantly I wanna prevent it. If you keep your cameras on police, if they know someone is watching, keeping a camera on them, they’re more like to behave.” There's certainly something to be said for that, as evidenced by the growing popularity of so-called ''body cameras'' worn by police officers to document both their activity and the activity of members of the public they come in contact with. The problem with drones, if you want to call it that, is that we're in essentially uncharted territory. The FAA says ''hobbyists' ' can fly drones as long as they're below 400 feet in altitude and are not being used for commercial purposes. But can you fly them over the fence of private property? That's more of a gray area. Can you fly them to see things that would otherwise not be visible from, say, a public street? Another gray area. Law enforcement is very sensitive to this, the Los Angeles Police Department telling me today ''we're not going to make any comment about drones." Chief Beck has publicity stated though, that even before the LAPD itself would deploy any drones for law enforcement purposes, say crowd control of video surveillance, the department would have a lengthy discussion with concerned members of the public so as to avoid any perception they might be 'spying' on people. It is clear drone use will grow, both by law enforcement and, on a smaller scale by the public. There's a 'wow' factor as the pictures are amazing and clear, but do we really want, say, someone flying a drone over Kim Kardashian's back yard and recording her, say, sunbathing? You get the picture. It's a slippery slope, but with progress and technological change there is often controversy.