After months of often-heated debate, a civilian oversight panel Tuesday signed off on a yearlong test of drones by the Los Angeles Police Department, which will become the largest police department in the nation to deploy the controversial technology.

The Police Commission’s 3-1 vote prompted jeers, cursing and a small protest that spilled into a downtown intersection just outside the LAPD’s glass headquarters — evidence of the opposition police have faced in recent weeks as they tried to reassure wary residents that the airborne devices would not be misused.

The use of drones — or “small Unmanned Aerial Systems,” in police-speak — has become a contentious issue for law enforcement in Los Angeles, where the nation’s largest sheriff’s department has flown one since January.

Advocates say camera-mounted drones could help protect officers and others by collecting crucial information during high-risk situations or searches without risking their safety. For many privacy advocates and police critics, however, the drones stir Orwellian visions of unwarranted surveillance or fears of militarized, weapon-toting devices patrolling the skies.

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