US Cops Just Got One Step Closer To Killing People By Drone

If lawmakers have their way, police in one US state could soon be using drones as lethal weapons against the citizens they're supposed to protect. On Thursday, Connecticut's judiciary committee approved a new drone regulation bill that, if passed, would make it the first US state to let cops use deadly drones later this year.

Image: Getty

Titled "An Act Concerning the Use and Regulation of Drones", the bill effectively bans weaponised drones for everyone in the state except for police officers, permitting them to use drones equipped with tear gas, incendiary and explosive devices and "remote deadly weapons".

"Obviously this is for very limited circumstances," State Senator John Kissel told the AP. "We can certainly envision some incident on some campus or someplace where someone is a rogue shooter or someone was kidnapped and you try to blow out a tire."

If ratified, the new bill will go into effect in October, but agencies won't be required to come up with a model policy of best use (which would identify, with specificity, when weaponised drones should be deployed) until January of next year. This provision is particularly concerning, effectively allowing police to shoot first and ask questions later. Officers are encouraged to have training before they use the drones, but the bill permits officers to obtain specialised training up to 30 days after use. David McGuire, executive director of the state ACLU, told Gizmodo that's beside the point.

"This is such a novel and misguided idea that there is no training for this," McGuire said. "Weaponised drones are not used for local law enforcement, they're used by the military."

Kissel used the example of rogue shooters, but it remains unclear exactly what type of incident would require tear gas versus lethal force. In Texas, for example, police used a robot armed with a bomb to kill a sniper who fatally shot five police officers during a Black Lives Matter protest. Dallas Police Chief David Brown told press that his department "saw no other option" given the threat to officers. McGuire worries that relying too heavily on technology distances officers from the people they're trying to protect.

"We worry that it becomes almost video game-like, in that the officer is now potentially hundreds of feet removed from the person they're interacting with," he said. "And instead of pulling a trigger on a Taser or a gun, they're pressing a button the screen."

According to McGuire, when speaking with officers one-on-one, he doesn't get the sense that they feel either overwhelmed or ill-equipped to police people without drone assistance. "We've seen nothing that necessitates this," he said.

Police drones in the US aren't exactly new. In 2015, North Dakota passed a bill allowing police to use armed drones, but, unlike Connecticut, limited them to "less lethal" weapons like rubber bullets and tear gas. A 2014 report from the Physicians for Human Rights and International Network of Civil Liberties Organisations, however, found that tear gas and rubber bullets can still be lethal, particularly when used against crowds. McGuire told Gizmodo that the media has reported 18 deaths via non-lethal Taser guns in Connecticut alone. There's no measure in the Connecticut bill that prevents the use of lethal drones against crowds or protestors, merely requiring police to suspect a serious crime is being committed first.

When it comes to civilian drones, on the other hand, police have framed their presence at demonstrations as risk to public safety. Last December, protesters rallying against the Dakota Access Pipeline used aerial drones to record footage of officers using water canons to disperse protesters. The US Federal Aviation Administration blocked drone usage overnight, preventing journalists from recording footage. A similar ban was issued in 2014 in Ferguson in response to protests following the murder of Michael Brown.

Whether the bill becomes law or not, officers already have a vast technical array of tools for policing -- from drone surveillance to biometric profiles, massive face recognition programs, and predictive policing -- meaning the issues surrounding "cyborg" police officers (and the attempts by civil libertarians to rein them) aren't going anywhere soon.

[AP]

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Comments

    If you've got a well barricaded and armed offender who poses an active threat, and conventional means have failed or are too dangerous, I see no issue with using drones to eliminate said threat. The author seems to try to draw in concerns over lethal actions at protests but I don't think that'll be the case.

    The conventional means of tackling these cases involves putting more people directly into harm's way.

      Of course to you only a fully militarised police force can operate efficiently. The core functions of the police include enforcing the law, keeping the peace and protecting life and property, but not judge, jury and executioner.

      "Until a mosquito lands on your balls you won't understand that problems cannot only be solved with extreme violence."

      That's the optimistic view, but US police don't exactly have a good track record when it comes to appropriate escalation of force, and there's been a growing trend (and related public discomfort) over the last 20 years of police militarisation to the point where they're buying APCs and LAVs from military surplus.

      There's a balance when it comes to increasing police power. A lot of things can be justified as increased security that aren't necessarily good ideas. Without expressing an opinion on this particular instance, conversations on things like this are good to have. To paraphrase John Curran, eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.

        I agree in theory however you have to admit the US has some pretty relaxed gun laws so how do you police a militarised civilisation without military control? It's a shitty slippery slope I totally agree. I have no idea how they are going to fix it beyond deescalating the obvious: ban military equipment which includes guns for everyone including police.

        edit: and I know that wont happen. They do love their guns.

        Last edited 03/04/17 10:34 am

          I've had that conversation with a good friend of mine who's a police officer (now a detective) in Montana. The escalation is a vicious circle: police use increased force in response to increased hostility against police, which leads to backlash from the community, which creates more hostility against the police and more violent reactions towards them.

          Each side wants to only focus on the other: police rightfully complain that there are more police officers being shot or killed in seemingly routine work and they need to respond in kind, but they have a hard time acknowledging that their own reputation for inappropriate response is contributing to the problem. The community on the other hand rightfully complains that there are increasing cases of police using excessive force, but tend to wash their hands of the fact their own hostility is helping to create an environment where police officers genuinely fear for their lives while doing their job.

          My detective friend is very reasoned and intelligent. He grew up less than law-abiding himself so he tends to be a lot more relaxed about minor things than other police might be, though he certainly takes his job seriously and he believes in it. And for all the experience he's had, he can't see a solution to the continuous escalation either.

          To me, that's frightening. Not so much what it is now, but what it will become if something can't be done.

            Don't want to edit this in case it goes into moderation hell, but in the second paragraph on police complaints, I meant to say "and they need to respond accordingly", not "they need to respond in kind".

            You know, depending on how you look at it the drones may actually work to de-escalate the violence. Look at it this way, one of the reasons why there are so many shootings by police is they are in active fear for their life while performing their duties. In contrast if you weaponize a drone and are able to use it to investigate and potentially detain a suspect there is no longer threat of injury or death to the police officer. So the need for them to shoot first is removed.

            Not sure how much or where drones could be utilised but there is potential for them to reduce injuries and fatalities on both sides of the equation.

            And frankly, even if they write into the legislation that they're only to be used in those extreme situations (like the Black Lives Matter march shooting) then I'd be ok with that.

              It would make the job of police officers safer in certain circumstances, definitely. On the flip side, the military has found issues with drone pilots and excess willingness to kill. The detachment between the pilot and the drone seems to make them a little more trigger-happy: drone pilots don't mentally process kills under their authority to be as 'real' as a soldier or normal aircraft pilot performing the same action.

              Whether the pros outweigh the cons is complicated and we'll have to see how it goes. But for me personally, this new authority makes me a little uncomfortable.

                That's an interesting problem and the opposite of what you'd expect. I wonder whether the drone pilots are different from regular soldiers though? And in turn who will be doing the drone piloting for the police?

                I could also imagine military drone pilots being a little more trigger happy since they're engaged in a hostile environment. You'd hope that drones in a friendly environment, though a (potentially) hostile situation would be different.

                  Here's a scenario for you:
                  - One extremely violent person if fighting on after having killed two police officers.
                  - The person is being tracked by a drone
                  - The person just happens to have a very similar build and dress to another
                  - The person runs behind a tree just as the other person emerges from behind the tree (with the other person totally oblivious to events).
                  - Drone pilot watching on a 27 inch monitor now has a target and shoots dead the *wrong* person.

                  How is that scenario different to a cop in person who didn't see this doppelganger pop out from behind the tree?

                  And again, there is less necessity to shoot a person since the drone operator is not at risk.

                  It's a lot easier to legislate proper drone usage and be more "cautious" than it is to restrict in person use of firearms. So just limit lethal force to certain situations. Heck they could easily have a loudspeaker on the drone and announce orders just like a person. And they already said they could use less lethal options like tasers and gas.

    This article got me thinking of a Muse song, Mercy;

    Show me mercy
    From the killing machines
    Show me mercy
    Can someone rescue me

    Look at what drone warfare has resulted in in countries like pakistan? Countless accidentall civiliann deaths. And thats with trained military personell. Now imagine drones (Albeit different to military drones) armed and in the hand of police? Who have more than likely spent 30 minutes learning how to use it.

      Apples and oranges. While I won't dispute the point ZombieJesus made about drone operators in the military being more likely to fire I'd question the effect the environment has on that decision. There's a difference between say Afghanistan or Syria and your New York or Ohio. I can't help but suspect the perception of the operator is affected by the fact the drone is operating in a war zone - "all people are hostile" being the default mindset. As opposed to operating a drone in friendly location - "all people are friendly" becomes the default mindset.

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