Aerial surveillance in Lancaster now airborne

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File photo of a Cessna 172

File photo of a Cessna 172 (AP)

LANCASTER (CNS) – Lancaster took to the skies today in its crime-fighting efforts, introducing an aerial video surveillance system mounted on a small airplane that will circle over the city and transmit footage directly to the Sheriff’s Department.

But city officials insisted that the system is aimed solely at reducing crime, and will not violate residents’ privacy.

“The people saying that have an imagination of what they think it is,” Mayor R. Rex Parris told reporters. ” … This is a system that has been cut down to meet the needs of law enforcement and at the same time safeguard privacy and I think we’ve successfully done that.”

The Law Enforcement Aerial Platform System, or LEAPS, is a camera system mounted on a Cessna 172 airplane that will be based at William J. Fox Airfield in Lancaster. Video shot by the system is encrypted and fed directly to the Sheriff’s Department, according to the city, meaning the footage will not be viewed by anyone aboard the aircraft or at the city.

Officials said such an encryption and restricted-access system ensures that residents’ privacy will be protected — a concern that has dogged the aerial-surveillance idea since the city began pursuing it four years ago.

“From a public safety perspective, LEAPS can follow a criminal target via visual movement at altitudes ranging from 1,000 to 3,000 feet above ground level, while using both visible and infrared images for tracking,” Lancaster sheriff’s station Capt. Bob Jonsen said. “It is an effective and economical resource offering superior surveillance, patrol and investigative capabilities.”

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