(MintPress)—In the midst of a controversy that has pundits on the left and right concerned and upset over the increased use of spy drones in U.S. skies, a Texas county sheriff is claiming his jurisdiction could benefit from arming its drone to disperse rubber bullets and tear gas.
In April, the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office received a Shadow Hawk drone through a Department of Homeland Security grant, at which time Chief Deputy Randy McDaniel indicated it would be put to use by its SWAT and narcotic departments.
“We are very excited about the funding and looking forward to placing equipment into the field,” McDaniel said in a statement at the time.
The drone is equipped with an HC camera, capable of shooting video day and night, according to PBS. Now it seems McDaniel is looking to enhance the military-style Shadow Hawk, which can fly at heights of 15,000 feet while traveling up to 55 mph, with weapons now only given to sheriff’s deputies.
Law enforcement use of drones has been pushed by the federal government recently, but such unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) are not equipped with weapons of any kind. McDaniel, of the Texas Montgomery Sheriff’s Office, told the Texas newspaper, The Daily, that his department is considering arming drones with the abilities to disperse rubber bullets and tear gas with the push of a button.
That claim has drawn concern from organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which claim sheriff’s deputies on the ground are given the authority to use such weapons because they are able to assess their alleged necessity when in the midst of a situation. With a drone, the trigger for such weapons would be given at a command center located miles from any reported crime scene. The ACLU cites the likelihood of unconstitutional force as a main concern.
“We (the ACLU) are categorically opposed to it,” ACLU Senior Policy Analyst Jay Stanley said in an interview with MintPress, citing concerns that weapons would be used on civilians. “It’s a recipe for disaster.”
McDaniel doesn’t see it that way.
“Those are things that law enforcement utilizes day in and day out,” the chief deputy told The Daily, “and in certain situations it might be advantageous to have this type of system on the UAV.”
Those opposed are also concerned with the overall impact on U.S. citizens, who will no longer feel free in a free society.
“Arming drones is pushing the envelope for where the country is right now,” Stanley told MintPress, claiming the idea of spy drones is a new and growing phenomenon in the U.S. — and one the ACLU is opposed to.
“We’re really just on the cusp of drone use,” he said, “and the floodgates are about to open.”
In May, President Barack Obama signed into law the FAA Reauthorization bill, which included a provision that the agency must process all applications for federal, state and local government agencies seeking approval for drone use. Since that time, the FAA has worked with local law enforcement agencies to equip them with the unmanned aircraft systems, referred to by the agency as UAS.
In a press release issued May 14, the FAA indicates it has dedicated a great deal of time to ensure the safety of UAS devices. Now, it seems, the agency is ready to disperse such drones throughout the country at greater rates than in the past.
“ … The FAA expects to release a proposed rule that will establish policies, procedures and standards for a wide spectrum of users in the small UAS community,” the FAA press release states. “This class of UAS will likely experience the greatest near-term growth in civil and commercial operations because of their versatility and relatively low initial cost and operating expenses.”