Police Taser Drones Legalized In North Dakota

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Police in North Dakota will soon be able to taser and tear gas people from the comfort of the police station using aerial drones thanks to a new law. The regulation has lawmakers worried that a more “depersonalized” policing strategy will cause problems, others are upset the law will tighten warrant restrictions for using the weaponized drones.

According to the Daily Beast, the original bill, House Bill 1328, was intended to ban all weapons on drones, moreover its stated purpose was to force police to get a warrant before using the flying devices for surveillance.

Unfortunately for the bill’s defenders, the final draft said that only “less-than-lethal” weapons would be allowed on drones, meaning that equipping a taser falls within the law. Sound cannons, tear gas, pepper spray, and guns that shoot rubber bullets are also permissible.

The Beast credits lobbyist Bruce Burkett of the North Dakota Peace Officer’s Association for making the amendment.

HB 1328’s sponsor Representative Rick Becker seemed dispirited at the sudden change in a hearing in March.

 

On the other side of the argument was Grand Forks County Sheriff Bob Rost, who didn’t comment much about the weapon section of the law, but feels that obtaining a warrant for drone surveillance is “unnecessary.”

He told the Daily Beast, “It was a bad bill to start with. We just thought the whole thing was ridiculous.”

He added that they used drone surveillance to obtain a warrant in the first place.

According to Gizmodo, the state’s business community also opposed the original bill. The state’s economy has taken a hit from the declining price of oil, and regulations would limit the drone industry’s “development” according to business advocates.

Grand Forks County Sheriff currently has two drones on loan from a California manufacturer (thereby avoiding the normally prohibitive costs of high quality drones.) The sheriff insists that the department’s drones are only equipped with cameras (never with a taser) and they are used for non-criminal investigations like missing persons cases.

Still, the department appears to have a number of discrepancies with the records they’re required to keep.

For example, the FAA has recorded 401 drone missions from the Grand Forks sheriff’s department in the past three years, but the sheriff only reported 21 and failed to keep track of the duration of each flight. Likewise, the he claims that they are used in non-criminal cases, but that leaves out the 2011 arrest of cattle thief Rodney Brossart.

The new law will likely add some additional hurdles for law enforcement to use of drones, but whether police departments will use it to equip the flying machines with a taser or rubber bullets remains to be seen.

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Sasha Perkins

Administrative Assistant and Journalist at the Pluto Daily since 2012.