By Brett Gillin
Police in North Dakota will now be able to fly and operate weaponized drones throughout the state. Now, this doesn’t mean that drones equipped with guns, like this one that sparked a wave of questions about the future of drones, will be patrolling the skies of North Dakota. Instead, drones may now be equipped with “Less than lethal” measures in order to aid in the apprehension of suspects and dispersal of unruly crowds.
The Daily Beast reports that thanks to Bruce Burkett, a lobbyist with North Dakota Peace Officer’s Association, was able to amend House Bill 1328 in the North Dakota state house to allow for police-operated drones to carry less than lethal payloads. Now, police can use rubber bullets, pepper spray, tear gas, sound cannons, and Tasers on any of the drones they so desire.
“This is one I’m not in full agreement with,” North Dakota’s Representative Rick Becker said of the bill. He originally wanted any type of weapon banned on drones, but had to compromise in order to push the bill’s original agenda: to require police to obtain a search warrant in order to use a drone in criminal investigations. “In my opinion, there should be a nice, red line: Drones should not be weaponized. Period,” Becker told reporters.
Many in the police community fought against the bill in the first place, arguing that the need to obtain a warrant just to use a drone as part of an investigation was a detriment to them doing their jobs, but the concession to allow them to arm them with less than lethal weapons may ease some of the discomfort with the bill.
Rep. Becker also voiced his concern about the possible complications that armed drones could bring about with police departments. He argues that because the police aren’t directly on the ground, instead they may be miles away operating the drone, there may be a certain disconnect and a greater chance that force would be used.
“When you’re not on the ground, and you’re making decisions, you’re sort of separate,” Becker told reporters. “Depersonalized.” Still, although there don’t seem to be any immediate plans to begin arming drones for police use, this bill has paved the way to allow it.