Connecticut’s legislature has managed to back into legalizing law enforcement use of weaponized drones. In writing a new drone law, lawmakers banned the use of weaponized drones, but made an exception for police. It’s not a case of “Hey, let’s give the cops weaponized drones!” as much as it is a case of not wanting law enforcement to be unable to have that option.
As for how police will or won’t be able to deploy weaponized drones, that’s still up in the air (I am so sorry):
Details on how law enforcement could use drones with weapons would be spelled out in new rules to be developed by the state Police Officer Standards and Training Council. Officers also would have to receive training before being allowed to use drones with weapons.
All well and good, but police officers also receive training in things like civil liberties and proper force deployment, and we see daily how much good that has done. The more encouraging parts of the bill — one that would see Connecticut join North Dakota in police use of weaponized drones — are the reporting requirements and warrant stipulation.
It would require police to get a warrant before using a drone, unless there are emergency circumstances or the person who is the subject of the drone use gives permission. It also would require police to report yearly on how often they use drones and why, and create new crimes and penalties for criminal use of drones, including voyeurism.
Unfortunately, Connecticut’s bill isn’t as limited as North Dakota’s. North Dakota’s forbids the use of lethal weapons, but it’s easy to see some less-than-lethal rounds becoming much more lethal when fired from a few hundred feet in the air. This bill would allow lethal force to be deployed from police drones. One lawmaker sees a pretty rosy future for airborne police weaponry.
“Obviously this is for very limited circumstances,” said Republican state Sen. John Kissel, of Enfield, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee that approved the measure Wednesday and sent it to the House of Representatives. “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.”
The problem with tools like these is they lend themselves to mission creep and abuse. Certainly, no law enforcement agency wants to take home the record for “First Civilian Killed by a Drone,” but once the seal’s broken, lethal force becomes easier and easier to deploy.
And it’s not as though this is a necessary step to take. Law enforcement often complains about being left behind in the tech race, but it’s not as though criminals are taking to the air and endangering citizens with weaponized drones. This would put the police ahead of everybody and move them one step closer to being a military force. And there’s no warrant in existence that grants police the license to kill — only to apprehend.
But that might be good enough for airborne Drug Warriors, etc. who believe many criminal acts are punishable by death, should the suspect be unwilling to immediately surrender himself into custody. We’ve seen plenty of senseless death and destruction stemming from overuse of vehicle pursuits. This is the next step: flying guns shooting at suspects as they flee through “civilian” traffic. Law enforcement officers aren’t great shots with both feet planted on the ground. Giving them a gun in the air is a bad idea.