The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

LAPD Spies from Above

Jan 15, 2024

For residents of Los Angeles’ working-class neighborhoods, noisy helicopters hovering low over their heads is an everyday—and every-night—reality, waking people up, causing anxiety and extra air pollution. Now an audit by the City Controller’s office put a dollar price tag on it also. Those police helicopter flights cost taxpayers nearly 50 million dollars a year!

And that’s only the LAPD. Together with the L.A. sheriff’s department, the police forces in the L.A. metropolitan area have 34 helicopters and four small airplanes. It’s the largest municipal air force in the world. The audit found that it targets certain neighborhoods for its daily air patrols—such as L.A.’s historically black working-class areas.

It’s the kind of routine surveillance that occupying armies do to intimidate the local population. Residents report how, from childhood, they have been awakened at night by helicopter noise. One resident recalled how a police helicopter once followed him with its spotlight. And sure enough, residents have been trying to stop the helicopter flights in their neighborhoods. The controller’s office said that its audit of LAPD helicopters was in response to residents’ complaints. The Stop LAPD Spying Coalition is currently suing the L.A. sheriff’s department for its flight records.

LAPD brass say these helicopter flights deter crime, but there is no known data to substantiate this claim. On the other hand, the city controller’s audit found many instances of “ceremonial” use of helicopters. For example, over the five-year period between 2018 and 2022 that the audit examined, there were 783 casual “fly-by activities.” That’s nearly a helicopter fly-by every two days for things like LAPD graduations, retirements, funerals—and a local golf tournament, too. Once, an LAPD helicopter was deployed to take two LAPD officials to a meeting 20 miles away. And all this at an operating cost of about 3,000 dollars an hour.

Obviously, LAPD brass cherish their helicopters, and they are getting a new one this year—it has been approved by L.A. politicians. There is no doubt that the people who pull the strings—L.A.’s big business elite, that is—also approve of such excesses by the LAPD. The proof is that this recent audit was the very first of its kind, even though the LAPD has been using helicopters for almost 70 years.

In fact, as expensive as LAPD’s helicopter force is, it amounts to only about 1.5% of L.A.’s three-billion-dollar police budget. The LAPD has 12,000 employees, 9,000 of them uniformed cops, and an abundance of armored vehicles and heavy weaponry. It’s a large, heavily armed police force, acting as an occupying army in the city’s working-class neighborhoods—to maintain the dominance of a small, very wealthy ruling class over society.