No, I’m not kidding. State legislature just approved the use of drones by police officers in North Dakota. With this approval, the drones can carry and deploy things like tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, or tasers. None of these are categorized as “lethal”, but they all have the potential to kill, harm, and traumatize civilians.
Originally, the bill proposing this authorization was supposed to allow the use of drones but prohibit them from carrying any type of weaponry. The drones were meant to be used for surveillance – and specifically with a warrant. Reports have said that when being amended by a lobbyist with connections in the local police, the bill became open to the use of non-lethal weapons.
And although the idea of bringing drone technology into North Dakota isn’t all that new (having been dubbed the Silicon Valley for drones), the possibility for violence in this type of setting is high. Drones and other airborne, remotely-controlled weapon systems have tendencies to hit the wrong targets and cause lots of collateral damage. We all remember the Texas police department’s use of a small robot to send a bomb into an empty building to kill a shooter this past summer. The militarization of local police forces is resulting in a lot of civilian deaths (read as: extrajudicial killings). The use of drones, whether they’re carrying lethal weaponry or not, is playing right into the into the military-industrial complex.
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons for this push is the anticipated amount of money to come out of it. Drone technology is viewed as one of the biggest booms since personal computers. The first two drones are being loaned to North Dakota by a manufacturer based in California. The Grand Forks Regional Economic Development Corporation’s spokesman Keith Lund went on record stating, “It’s really all about the commercial development, which is where all of this is heading.”
Are you reading this thinking, “wow, maybe I really do need to move to Canada because trigger-happy American insanity is just not improving”? Same. Even Republicans are opposing this bill, which ended up being more liberally violent than they had thought it would be.
Representative Rick Becker has said that in 2017 he’ll fight to amend the bill and pull back the liberties that individual police departments currently have with these new pieces of surveillance & patrol tech. Until then, we just hope that the high price tag on airborne weapons delays mainstream implementation as much as possible.