Should We Let Law Enforcement Drone On and On?
Domestic shock-and-awe is now becoming par for the course.
A. Barton Hinkle
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell thinks the use of unmanned aerial drones for domestic law enforcement is—his word—”great.” As he told WTOP radio in Washington recently, “[It] cuts down on manpower in the air, and also [is] more safe. That’s why we use it on the battlefield.”
Well, yes. But there is a slight difference between Baltimore and Basra or Kansas and Kandahar: We’re not at war in Baltimore or Kansas. We’re not trying to vanquish enemy forces in Washington, or repel an invasion inNorth Dakota.
Admittedly, you might not know that by looking at today’s hyper-militarized police forces. In recent years they have been stocking up on body armor, flashbang grenades, assault rifles, and armored vehicles like the Lenco BearCat G3—an 8-ton, quarter-million-dollar behemoth that is all the rage in burgs both big and small. (Among the localities that have bought a BearCat G3 is Warren County, Va., a bucolic place of 40,000 that averages one homicide every three years. If that.)
But domestic shock-and-awe is now becoming par for the course. Earlier this year Virginia State Police officers donned combat gear to face down a small group of pro-choice protesters at the Capitol here in Richmond—a level of overkill on the order of opening the door to an Easy-Bake Oven with a splitting maul.
Now law-enforcement agencies around the country are buying drones. During the Clinton years, homegrown militia groups used to warn about black helicopters in whisper mode spying on American citizens. The paranoid fantasies seemed funny at the time. That was then. As of this writing more than 300 state and local police departments have bought drones and applied for federal permission to use them.