New Police Surveillance Drones Could Also Be Armed With Nonlethal Weapons

Tuesday, March 13, 2012
By Paul Martin

Tase of our lives

New police surveillance drones could be armed with nonlethal weapons

MARCH 12, 2012

As a Texas sheriff prepares to use an unmanned drone as his force’s eye in the sky, and perhaps even arm it with nonlethal weapons like Tasers and rubber bullets, civil liberties groups are crying foul.

In the coming weeks, the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office north of Houston says it will deploy a $300,000 ShadowHawk drone — bought with a federal homeland security grant — to spy on criminals, support SWAT operations and look for missing persons.

The unmanned helicopter is about the size of a large dog, has a range of 25 miles and can be operated for 11 percent of the cost of a manned helicopter, according to the ShadowHawk’s manufacturer, Vanguard Defense Industries.

A spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union said the sheriff’s office’s 50-pound device is part of a worrying rise of unmanned surveillance by police.

“Drones are coming to America, to a police department near you,” said Kirsten Bokenkamp, with the Houston ACLU. “The biggest fear with domestic drones is the prospect of surveillance, the idea that Americans will simply be subject to surveillance by drones outdoors whenever they happen to go outside.”

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