New police drones could be equipped with non-lethal weapons

Drones have been used increasingly in law enforcement scenarios to pursue suspects, thanks to their cheap cost, easy deployment and different camera configurations, including night vision and infrared. The Montgomery County Sheriff's Office is about to spend $300,000 on a ShadowHawk drone which will help them to pursue suspects, aid in SWAT operations, and looking for missing people, but the American Civil Liberties Union says there's cause for concern over the potential for weapons to be added.The Daily reports that right now the drone is only equipped with a camera, although there's a possibility of non-lethal weapons being added in the future. Rubber bullets, tear gas, and even tasers could potently be mounted to drones in order to tackle various situations like apprehending a suspect, or crowd dispersal.

Chief Deputy Randy McDaniel says that the sheriff's department is open to the idea of adding such non-lethal weapons. Meanwhile, Kirsten Bokenkamp, a spokeswoman with the Houston ACLU, says that officers "can make very nuanced judgments about whether or not that use of force is appropriate but you don't have that same contextual reasoning when the person operating the drone is far away."

The other issue raised is one of privacy, although McDaniel dismisses such claims by saying that drones are only used in the event of criminal activity. He went on to say, "You have news helicopters, military helicopters, private planes that fly over your house daily that have the same opportunity to see what you're doing just as easily as this UAV."

The company that supplies the ShadowHawk, Vanguard Defense Industries, says that non-lethal weapons are only sold of military versions of the drone. Apparently no request has been received to include such devices on police versions of the UAV.