Police Taser drones authorized in N.D.

August 31 02:32 2015

Criminals in North Dakota may soon find themselves zapped by Tasers from on high. That’s one of the possibilities presented by the state’s House Bill 1328, which allows police departments to equip drones with non-lethal weapons such as Tasers, tear gas and rubber bullets. Controversy already is swirling around the new law, which went into effect Aug. 1.

635763723399470693-dronexThe original piece of legislation, as presented by state Rep. Rick Becker, was aimed at making sure police obtained a search warrant to use a drone to seek out criminal evidence. But when Bruce Burkett, a lobbyist with ties to area police, was allowed to amend the bill, it was rewritten to specify that drones could carry anything except weapons capable of lethal force. Although Tasers are meant just to stun suspects with jolts of electricity, hundreds have died in the past decade as a result of the weapon. More recently, there’s been increased public concern about the militarization of police departments.

Regardless of what state police may want to do as a result of the new legislation, the high cost of sophisticated drone technology may keep weaponized police drones grounded in the short term. The Daily Beast reported that the Grand Forks County Sheriff Department currently has two drones, both of which are on loan from California manufacturers. At present, they are equipped only with cameras.

Drones have quickly moved from hobbyist toys to commercial mainstays, used for everything from tracking animal populations to tending crops. Laws have yet to keep pace, with the Federal Aviation Administration proposing a series of rules and regulations that have yet to be adopted.