In this installment of our series “Skynet is Coming, Skynet is Coming,” I want to get serious for a moment: the recently passed North Dakota House Bill 1328 – which allows police to arm drones with Tasers, tear gas and other “non-lethal” weapons – feels bad. Really bad.
When was the last time police in North Dakota had to suppress violent crowds? Does North Dakota even have enough people in it to form crowds?
The state doesn’t have one professional sports team, and – no surprise – no professional arena or stadium. I guess that means we don't have to worry about hooliganism. Oh, wait, that's European football (soccer to us in the U.S.). Never mind.
University of North Dakota is the largest college in the state with about 18,000 students; number two North Dakota State University-Main Campus has about 17,000. The number three school is the size of a decent suburban high school in more populous states.
Is anyone expecting to rain rubber bullets down on college kids?
Coyotes?North Dakota arms drones, now ready for what - errant beef? Click To Tweet
North Dakota has 10.5 people per square mile, #47 out of the 50 states.
The state's own website — on the police page — notes “Bismarck and North Dakota are consistently rated as one of the safest places to live in the United States.”
How have the North Dakota State Police used drones previously? Umm…what about that time they called in a Predator B?
OK, that was once.
So (still): why armed drones?
Oh! Here's why:
“Law enforcement wasn’t the only one who disapproved of the legislation [ed. note: this bill was initially introduced to require warrants when using drones – the local police lobby horse-traded warrants for the ability to arm drones with “non-lethal” weapons]. A representative from the North Dakota Department of Commerce, the vice president of an economic development group, the founder of a drone company, and the director of the University of North Dakota’s drone major program all testified against the bill.
Why would a bunch of business types want to stop something like warrants for drones?
“I think when you’re trying to stimulate an industry in your state, you don’t want things that would potentially have a chilling effect on [drone] manufacturers,” said Al Frazier, a Grand Forks sheriff’s deputy who pilots the drones.
Organizations like the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International track legislation, especially any laws that appear to limit drone “development,” according to Keith Lund of the Grand Forks Regional Economic Development Corporation.
“Requiring a search warrant for surveillance is ‘restricting development’?” asked Rep. Gary Paur, a Republican, at a hearing.
“It’s really all about the commercial development, which is where all of this is heading,” Lund replied. “If [a law] is somehow limiting commercial, law enforcement development… that is a negative in terms of companies looking and investing in opportunities in the state of North Dakota,” Lund said.
In other words, limit civil liberties so Big Drone can spread its wings.”
You can find the original story published in the International Business Times here.
But the specifics are kinda like this:
A real estate development firm with Department of Defense experience (Infinity Development Partners LLC) is building the Grand Sky UAS commercial park adjacent to the Grand Forks U.S. Air Force Base, where Grand Sky tenants can avail themselves of the airbase facilities including its runway. This in turn has delivered federal grants already in excess of $5 million to the area. Grand Sky think of themselves as the new “Silicon Valley of Drones.” And Bruce Burkett, former president of the North Dakota Peace Officers Association (1985) is the guy who amended the bill to allow the police to mount non-lethal force on drones.
I guess with passage of North Dakota House Bill 1328 the Grand Sky ecosystem is setting the stage for paying clients (using even more tax payer dollars if the Highway Patrol is buying their tenants' stuff). Use of drones in agriculture wasn't enough?
By the way: a cursory web search turns up the price of a single ShadowHawk at $220,000. That's a lot of money that might be better allocated to…people.
Snarkiness aside, there is a case to be made that drones are a growth industry because they can do amazing things, and the wide open spaces of North Dakota are as good as any for making it the Silicon Valley of UAVs.
But this feels a little dark, a little too military-industrial-complex-y, a little too “let's transfer wealth from the many (tax dollars) to the few (Grand Sky's investors). A little bit too Slytherin to the UK Police in Cumbria's Gryffindor.
North Dakota Police Drones Can Launch Rubber Bullets, Pepper Spray And Other Non-Lethal Weapons: Report
Via sUAS News:
Police in North Dakota are now authorized to deploy drones armed with Tasers, tear gas and other weapons after the passage of House Bill 1328. The bill was originally intended to limit police surveillance powers, but according to a new report North Dakota’s police lobby blocked restrictions on the type of equipment law enforcement can include on unmanned aerial vehicles.
HB 1328 was initially meant to limit police drone powers. A draft of the bill banned all weapons on law enforcement drones, and required them to obtain a warrant before deploying an unmanned aerial vehicle in a search for criminal evidence. That was until the state house committee allowed Bruce Burkett of North Dakota’s Peace Officer’s Association, a police lobby group, to amene HB 1328 so it limited the weapons ban so that “less than lethal” weapons are still allowed, according to an extensive report in the Daily Beast.
“This is one I’m not in full agreement with. I wish it was any weapon,” Rep. Rick Becker, the Republican sponsor of the original bill, said at a March hearing as quoted by the Daily Beast. “In my opinion, there should be a nice, red line: Drones should not be weaponized. Period.”
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(cover photo credit: snap from sUAS News)