Police are now voicing their concerns about domestic drone use — specifically, they want the option to be able to employ weaponized drones in the future, should the need arise.
As if police brutality and aggression weren’t already an epidemic in the United States, police departments in Connecticut oppose a bill to outlaw the weaponization of drones. The bill also addresses unmanned aerial vehicles fitted with cameras, and their potential to violate the privacy rights of individuals. But law enforcement departments in the state appear far more concerned with being deprived of the possibility of arming them with weapons, rather than cameras.
As FOX 61 reported, bills currently being considered would both restrict drone use and classify arming them with any weapons — such as firearms or flamethrowers — as a Class C felony. Employing drones to set off explosives, deadly weapons, tear gas, and the like would be punishable by ten years in prison — and, at the moment, that would include law enforcement. As written, the bill would require law enforcement to procure a warrant prior to using a drone for any reason.
Connecticut legislators seem to be taking practically the opposite route of those in North Dakota.
In 2015, North Dakota passed a law granting police the right to arm drones with “less than lethal” weaponry. Quietly slipping under the radar of the public and the media, the bill as originally written by its sponsor, Representative Rick Becker, banned all weapons on police drones — until a powerful police lobby had its way with the original draft.
“Bruce Burkett of the North Dakota Peace Officer’s Association was allowed by the state house committee to amend HB 1328 and limit the prohibition only to lethal weapons. ‘Less than lethal’ weapons like rubber bullets, pepper spray, tear gas, sound cannons, and Tasers are therefore permitted on police drones,” Justin Glawe reported for The Daily Beast in August.
Of course, ‘less than lethal’ is quite a misnomer. Besides maiming and seriously injuring people, many of those options can also be fatal — particularly Tasers.
“This is not one I’m in full agreement with. I wish it was any weapon,” Becker rued at a hearing in March. “In my opinion, there should be a nice, red line: Drones should not be weaponized. Period.”
He noted the potential for police to mimic U.S. use of drones abroad, as in fighting ISIL — particularly because, he added, “When you’re on the ground, and you’re making decisions, you’re sort of separate. Depersonalized.”
North Dakota may have succumbed to Big Drone’s wishes — as the Daily Beast described the booming industry and its lobbyists — but it’s almost inevitable that privacy rights groups, legislators, concerned citizens, and law enforcement will point to its and Connecticut’s laws as reference precedents. Depending on which turn the bills before the Connecticut legislature take, that state could be added to what will likely be a growing list of laws for how to deal with weaponized drones.
Joining the battle to prevent police spying by drone, the ACLU was slated to testify about the Connecticut bill on Tuesday.
For now, the prospect of law enforcement arming drones remains a legal gray area — at least, in most areas of the U.S.
Also by Heather Callaghan
5 Things You Need to Know About This Week’s Drone Wars
It’s the rise of the drones, an era more likely concocted in the surreal world of Ray Bradbury – not meant to interact with us in everyday reality. But here they are among us.
As drones – all types of flying drone aircraft (hobby, media and law enforcement) – become ubiquitous, the process of figuring out legalities is long overdue.
There is already an obvious bent toward arresting anyone obstructing the use of snooping law enforcement drones; whereas, personal drones or products that protect individuals from invading drones are heavily probed.
Here are five important drone developments from this week alone:
1. Non-violently protecting others from an invasive drone and potential injury ends in arrest.
You may have read Joe Wright’s report on Activist Post. A California man merely tossed his T-shirt at a beach drone because he thought it might hurt some nearby children. Drones have been known to hit, injure and even cut people. Singer Enrique Iglesias probably does not find drones to be a friendly presence after one sliced his hand at a concert.
Within 10 minutes of downing the craft, the beach-goer found himself surrounded by police, under arrest and detained on $10,000 bond. Not much is known about the drone operator, any connections with police or why his drone was on the public beach in such close proximity of people.
In the same article, Wright mentions a New Jersey man in trouble over keeping one off of his own property. Well…
2. NJ man arrested for downing drone actually indicted by grand jury – faces two felony charges.
This is getting serious. The Smoking Gun reports:
Russell Percenti, 33, is facing criminal mischief and possession of a firearm for an unlawful purpose charges. The latter count carries a maximum of ten years in prison, while Percenti could face up to 18 months on the lesser felony rap.
Percenti […] was arrested last September after Leonard Helbig reported that someone “shot his drone out of the air with a shotgun while he was taking pictures of a friend’s property that is under construction.”
Perhaps seeing an opening in the market…
3. A company just created “Drone Munition” shot shell specifically for protection against invasive drones.
“We are very excited to be manufacturing a product focused on defending our freedoms. We see this line as a game changer in the industry and as an important defense against rising threats to our way of life,” says Casey Betzold, president of the company, which specifically cites the case of a Kentucky father who recently shot down a drone that was hovering near his daughter, who was sunbathing in their backyard.
California has just echoed those concerns by…
4. Approving drone trespassing crime bills.
In the state Senate, lawmakers voted 40-0 to approve AB856 by Assemblyman Ian Calderon, D-Whittier, classifying drone use to take pictures or video on private property as an invasion of privacy.
Meanwhile, the Assembly voted 43-11 on AB856 by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, which would create a trespass crime for operating a drone less than 350 feet above ground over private property without consent.
Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Glendale feels strongly that it makes sense to extend property rights upward and said:
If you drive on someone’s property car, you’re trespassing. If you’re looking on someone’s property to break in, you’re trespassing. It makes no sense that a drone should be able to look in your window and the operator should not be guilty of the same trespass.
Of course, the motivation in California seems to surround paparazzi abuse. Other members disapproved the bills and felt they would dampen the industry and stifle innovation.
First it was India, but you didn’t think it was coming to America? Well, North Dakota just legalized weaponized drones for law enforcement. Yes, it is now possible for police to fire “less than lethal” taser prongs and tear gas at people from the air (while keeping themselves snugly safe at a remote location). If a person didn’t know any better, they might wonder what this newest development in the militarization of police signals for the future.
The pro-police and pro-drone lobbyist succeeded in pushing for “less than lethal” weapons like rubber bullets, pepper spray, tear gas, sound cannons, and Tasers now approved for law enforcement drones. (Read more)
There are simply no more words.
Let’s get this straight – you will be jailed and charged with felonies for protecting children or personal property for injurious and snooping drones. If police fire potentially lethal rounds at you from the air – no probs. There is Drone Munition but it might only be legal if you are a Hollywood actor staving off a paparazzi camera?
Aren’t you glad you stumbled on this week’s “haps” while living under the Drone Apocalypse? I wasn’t either. With enough uproar and refusal to accept this menacing presence in our lives maybe weaponized and surveillance drones won’t be a worthwhile industry after all.
Have you seen low-flying drones out in public where you live? Have you read any other stories of people being arrested for shooting down drones? Please leave details in the comment section and share this story with a friend!