Five Reasons Armed Domestic Drones Are a Terrible Idea

The Daily Beast has reported that North Dakota has enacted a drone bill that permits law enforcement drones to be equipped with weapons such as Tasers, rubber bullets, tear gas, and sound cannons. This is a terrible idea.

Having attended numerous drone meetings and conferences in the past several years attended by a broad array of industry, law enforcement, and other government representatives, I can confidently say that there is a broad consensus that armed domestic drones are beyond the pale. With the exception of one sheriff in Texas who mused about arming drones several years ago, the concept is never even seriously discussed in the drone community. Several states have already enacted flat bans on weaponized drones (examples include Oregon , Virginia, and Wisconsin).

Although there are plenty of states that have not passed drone legislation at all, and some states have enacted legislation that makes no mention of the arming of drones (such as Florida, Tennessee, and Utah), the North Dakota bill is different. While it does explicitly ban the arming of police drones with “lethal weapons,” it remains silent on so-called “less-than-lethal weapons.”

Here’s why arming drones, even with less-frequently-lethal weapons, is a such a bad idea:

  1. Drones make it too easy to use force. When domestic law enforcement officers can use force from a distance, it may become too easy for them to do so, and the inevitable result will be that these weapons are over-used—just as surveillance tools, having become so cheap and easy, are widely overused. Tasers were originally sold as an alternative to guns—and who could dispute that getting an electric shock is better than getting a bullet? Yet we know that Tasers are routinely used by police officers not as a last-resort use of force, as guns are supposed to be, but as a torture device to get truculent suspects to comply with police commands through the application of pain—and all-too-often, as a way of punishing citizens for the crime of “dissing a cop.”
  2. “Nonlethal” weapons aren’t actually nonlethal. So-called “nonlethal” or “less-than-lethal” weapons should be called “less lethal” weapons because they do kill. Tasers regularly kill Americans—39 people so far in 2015, according to the Guardian, and comparable numbers each year going back to 2001 according to an Amnesty International report on the technology, which also found that 90% of those killed with Tasers were unarmed.
  3. Distance=inaccuracy. Even when officers are physically present, fully immersed in a situation—with 360-degree vision and all of their other senses in play—we know that force is often over-used. When officers are not physically present, their perception of a situation and their judgment about when to apply force is more likely to be flawed, non-targets are more likely to be injured, and excessive amounts of force are more likely to be applied. And the drones themselves may be inaccurate due to wind, communications and control problems, or other factors.
  4. This will open the door to increasing weaponization. If we allow less-lethal weapons to be deployed on drones, how long will it be before the door is opened to fully lethal weapons. Already the Pentagon has developed a small (under 6-pound) lethal “kamikaze” drone called the “Switchblade,” which functions as a pint-sized guided missile. The Army is reportedly considering spending $100 million on such drones under a program called the Lethal Miniature Aerial Munition System.
  5. It will only increase the militarization of police. The heavily militarized response to the protests in Ferguson and so many other places around the country have been bad enough; imagine if the police there were permitted to fill the skies with drones raining beanbag bullets, Tasers, tear gas, and sound cannons down on protesters.

This bill does impose restrictions on police use of drones for surveillance, which is a good thing, and initially, it banned all weapons on drones. The ACLU supported the initial version of the bill. But the weaponization provision was altered through last-minute lobbying by the state’s police association.

Just because police departments in North Dakota have been given permission by their legislature to fly armed drones does not mean that they need to do so, or will. Indeed the strong national consensus against doing so may hold them back until hopefully this anomalous legislation can be reversed.

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Anonymous

Why did the people become the enemy? It has been all police state ever since 9-11, the only thing that ever happened in the history of the universe.

Anonymous

Not to get all Alex Jonesy but...Common, working-class people have always been the enemy of the rich elite throughout history. The greed instinct still exists. It's methods; increasingly more covert and sophisticated. Unlike most of us, they are students of history out of mere necessity to maintain dominion. The eventuality of mass labor strikes and rioting once the global economy collapses, make it necessary for them to militarize their police forces to protect their financial interests (their lives as well). You're a human resource that has generated wealth for them. When the working class were needed, they were taken care of (150 years in United States history). With advancements in computerization and robotics; the offshoring of jobs--the need for human resources has been, and is, diminishing exponentially. Labor force saturation has exceeded demand and is leading to wage stagnation and increased inequality. This then leads to the complete breakdown of a society. What happens then? People strike and riot like they did in the 1930's and 1940's. Who is in charge of suppressing such behavior? The police.

Doug Youngs

I think the writer of this nonsense, Jay Stanley, and the ACLU are pro crime. We get plenty of stories about criminals being shot by police that are written to demonize the police but we don't get too many stories that paint a fair picture of who is actually out there committing violent crimes. I haven't seen any kind of coverage of incidents in which police officers were killed in cold blood by criminals, but then nobody at the ACLU is capable of connecting the dots when a police officer pulls his gun. Maybe police officers with families sitting at home wondering if thier husband or wife, son or daughter or mother or father is coming home at the end of he day because some scum bag piece of crap is out there with a gun robbing a store, or an old lady in a church and gets his rocks off on shooting a cop. Welcome to reality

Anonymous

I'd rather have crime than to be attacked by the police. Law enforcement officers have shown themselves to be irresponsible and brutal of late, and there is little reason to think they will use restraint with such a potent weapon.

Brian

this comment has absolutly zero relevance to the article at hand. If you want to add something to the discussion, debate the merits of using weaponized drones against masses of peaceful protesters. otherwise, piss off with your ranting.

Mr.Facts

Perhaps, because compared to fishing, logging, ranching, mining, garbage collection, or being a trucker; being a cop isn't very dangerous. In 2013 the on the job death rate for police was 11.1 per 100,000. Less than half of those were murders (most were vehicular accidents) which puts the murder rate for police at under 5.5 per 100,000. It's more dangerous to just walk down the street in Baltimore (murder rate 5.6 per 100,000) than it is to be a cop.

Welcome to reality. Now with actual facts!

Anonymous

The use of drones also creates a lack of representation and accountability and lack of ability to pursue legal actions against the misuse of power and force.

Anonymous

Doug: Some police officers are shot that is true, I don't think anyone thinks that's a good thing or that criminals aren't dangerous. On the other side many civilians are shot both on purpose, accidentally or mistakenly by police officers, no one thinks that's a good thing either. What has that got to do with a discussion about arming drones and the potential problems that doing that may incur?

To Doug Youngs

Right, the ACLU is pro-crime. I would hate to see you ever end up on the wrong side of the law for whatever reason, and yes people do find themselves there for other reasons than just "being a scumbag". If you're lucky, when that happens, we will still have the ACLU and their supporters to keep you from becoming another casualty of the far-too-common proponents of "see everything in black and white" law enforcement.

Anonymous

Can you name the first American President to be killed by an armed drone? Was it an autonomous drone or remotely controlled? If it was remotely controlled, was it by a disgruntled law enforcement officer or a former military personnel, expert in drone weaponry., or was it by a 12 year old kid his daddy's favorite dear hunting drone approved by the NRA? Armed drones a quantum leap forward towards armed and anonymous all out anarchy. Bi-law enforcement traffic cops will simply be used for target practice until the cities run out of them. There's a lot to look forward to in the final collapse of America and all she stands for. Armed Drones, is there anything more American?

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