Carceral Ecologies’ Police Helicopter Surveillance Project aims to understand how LA law enforcement helicopter surveillance might be disrupting people’s sleep, mental, and physical health, and how those disruptions may be patterned by race and class.

Approaching Helicopter Surveillance

We are mapping and analyzing five years of police helicopter flight trajectory data. This consists of latitude/longitude positions taken every few seconds for each flight – constituting over 20 million rows of data for the five years. To understand the raced and classed patterning of these trajectories, we are incorporating census tract demographic data. Finally, we are collecting data on the decibels of sound emitted from these helicopters, as the connecting waves between helicopters in the air and residents in the census tracts below.

Skills Utilized

One skill required for this project is patience because the data the team is working with is large, messy, and complex. It has taken forever to clean, and team members are now doing both exploratory and statistical analysis with it. Eventually, questions that involve trigonometry, physics, and neuroscience will be tackled, so knowledge in these fields will be necessary.


Some of the difficulties we’ve come across is in acquiring and cleaning the data, which has been a lengthy process. In turn, we haven’t churned out results as quickly as we might have, especially with our initial dataset being from 2020. However, now that we have the code we can apply it to five years’ worth of data. Jacobo, a much more experienced statistician, is refining this code and expanding our stats analysis in a short amount of time.