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North Dakota Legalizes "Less Than Lethal" Weapon-Equipped Police Drones 180

According to the Daily Beast, writes reader schwit1, North Dakota police will be free to fire 'less than lethal' weapons from the air thanks to the influence of a pro-police lobbyist. That means beanbags, tear-gas, and Tasers, at the very least, can be brought to bear by remote. It's worth noting that "non-lethal" isn't purely true, even if that's the intent behind such technologies. From the article, based partly on FOIA requests made by MuckRock into drone use by government agencies: The bill’s stated intent was to require police to obtain a search warrant from a judge in order to use a drone to search for criminal evidence. In fact, the original draft of Representative Rick Becker’s bill would have banned all weapons on police drones. Then Bruce Burkett of the North Dakota Peace Officer’s Association was allowed by the state house committee to amend HB 1328 and limit the prohibition only to lethal weapons. “Less than lethal” weapons like rubber bullets, pepper spray, tear gas, sound cannons, and Tasers are therefore permitted on police drones.
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North Dakota Legalizes "Less Than Lethal" Weapon-Equipped Police Drones

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  • They'll only kill you, a little.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It will only leave you mostly dead, which is still somewhat alive.

      • by boomer_rehfield ( 579777 ) on Thursday August 27, 2015 @09:35AM (#50402071)

        I'm not dead! I think I'll go for a walk...

        • Let's see....
          Acquire Target
          Aim At Target
          Fly Toward Target
          Turn Off Propellers
          Hit Target
          --does that count as "lethal force"?
          • --does that count as "lethal force"?

            Depends on the size of the drone and the vertical distance before impact.

            Also, not all police drones will be prop driven. Something like a Global Hawk you'd be able to make a powered impact with.

            Then again, in a place like North Dakota, if the local police force is willing to 'use up' an expensive drone that they're not going to automatically get funding to replace, odds are that the target would 'deserve' and 'require' it.

      • That's still pretty hard to come back from.

        I mean, it'd take a miracle.
      • by bondsbw ( 888959 )

        We do what we must
        because we can
        For the good of all of us.
        Except the ones who are dead.

        But there's no sense crying
        over every mistake.
        You just keep on trying
        'til you run out of cake.
        And the science gets done.
        And you make a neat gun
        for the people who are
        still alive.

    • A laser mounted on a drone could blind you . . . permanently . . . but you would still be very much alive. That's definitely "Less than Lethal".

      Such weapons are banned under the Geneva Conventions. But North Dakota can claim that they never signed it.

      Paint the drone to look like shark for even more amusement.

    • Relax. You won't be dead, just resting - from being tired and shagged out following a prolonged squawk. []
    • Exactly.
      "Lethal" : a gun. Except a bullet can hit you in about 95% of your body area and not kill you.

      "nonlethal" : taser. Mace. Billy Club. All of which can and have killed people.

      Wordsmithing is getting worse all the time. Anyone want to define a WofNotMD? How fast/what range of killzone is required to be a WMD? An IED? It's a freaking BOMB, m'kay? Let's stop pretending weapons are something they aren't.

      • by Firethorn ( 177587 ) on Thursday August 27, 2015 @01:11PM (#50403813) Homepage Journal

        Except that 'Wordsmithing', in most of your examples is actually useful in professional terms. Let me break it down:

        Lethal Force - Force that death is a reasonable, even 'usual' result from. Standard firearms, fragmentary explosives, etc...

        Nonlethal - The use of this term is actually depreciated in the force-continuum. It's a sad fact that humans can be both incredibly resilient and incredibly fragile. A disabler that works on a guy able to cut his own arm off that's trapped by a boulder and apply a tourniquet before hiking 26 miles to get to medical care is probably going to be lethal to a 90 year old diabetic great-grandmother. Worse, it's not always apparent who's 'fragile' and who's not.

        Less-lethal - The replacement term. It's still potentially lethal, so care should be employed in it's deployment, but as long as you follow the directions, your department shouldn't kill anybody with it any given year.

        WMD: Weapon of Mass Destruction. Now, I'm old school with this one, and demand that it be NBC - Nuclear, Biological, or Chemical. And the last is iffy as well. In order for me to count it as a WMD, it needs to be able to destroy city blocks of people, or at least kill more people than any individual practical conventional bomb. I dislike calling a pressure cooker bomb a 'WMD'. So I'd say on a 'killzone' requirement to be a WMD: Several blocks radius OR 'significant' primary duration in time. IE, as a direct intended effect from the bomb, it will keep killing people who enter the area for a significant amount of time after deployment, not just from hazards like structurally compromised buildings.

        IED: Improvised Explosive Device. As opposed to a non-improvised one. A very important distinction during my time in the military. Standard munitions have standard means of disarming and disposal. EOD(Explosive Ordinance Disposal) rolls up on a Mark 82 500 pound bomb(or it's Russian equivalent), they know how to make it safe. All that goes out the window when it's an IED. Think of it like a paperwork thing - for a car you put make & model. For a bomb you'd do the same, but IED = 'home built'/unknown/unlisted. So your going 'It's a BOMB' is like saying 'It's a CAR' when I say that a Honda Civic was in an accident.

        • The NBC version of WMD is the military definition while the newer definition that includes things like a pressure cooker bomb is used by law enforcement. I don't like the law enforcement definition either as it captures some relatively small bombs. I wonder if they created this to add another charge because if you blow up an IED (or something else) then they will charge you for any deaths, attempted deaths, and destruction of property.

          • I wonder if they created this to add another charge because if you blow up an IED (or something else) then they will charge you for any deaths, attempted deaths, and destruction of property.

            That's my take on it. I really dislike it because bomb-making is generally illegal anyways, they can hit you sufficiently hard there.

            But you get silly things like charging a woman who's bomb-efforts extended to giving a rash to her target with 'making a WMD' because, by golly, she was attempting to make a chemical weapon! if you use the police definition, which waters down the definition to the point that the military would consider it useless. Tank round? WMD Willy Pete grenades used to create smoke sc

  • Begun (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DumbSwede ( 521261 ) <> on Thursday August 27, 2015 @09:21AM (#50401935) Homepage Journal

    The Drone Wars Have

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That is all...

    • In North Dakota? Who cares about Canadian Provinces and drones anyway?

    • The Drone Wars Have [] Begun

      It's Bode's Ramdove [].

      • by Thud457 ( 234763 )
        hey thanks, that's a new one to me -- the one thing Vaughn Bode didn't stick gigantic voluptuous tits on. Gotta love that 70's drugged-out sci fi aesthetic.
    • The Drone Wars Have (original subject)

    • by antdude ( 79039 )

      Yoda, is that you?

  • And so it begins (Score:5, Insightful)

    by captnjohnny1618 ( 3954863 ) on Thursday August 27, 2015 @09:24AM (#50401961)
    I can't fathom how they think this makes sense, or that there won't be pushback. Welcome to the police state.

    Can I shoot at your "non-lethal" drone with my non-lethal weapons?
    • by Dins ( 2538550 ) on Thursday August 27, 2015 @09:36AM (#50402077)

      I can't fathom how they think this makes sense, or that there won't be pushback.

      There should be pushback. But there won't be pushback.

      • by Areyoukiddingme ( 1289470 ) on Thursday August 27, 2015 @01:44PM (#50404045)

        There should be pushback. But there won't be pushback.

        In North Dakota? A machine points a weapon at them with no visible human, you can bet North Dakotans will shoot back, and they won't be shy about using lethal weapons. This is practically an invitation to a skeet-shoot. Any reluctance to fire at law enforcement simply doesn't exist when it's nothing but a buzzing flying thing. Even if it's a larger one, if it's low and slow enough to employ a non-lethal weapon successfully, it's GOING to get shot down, repeatedly. Yeah, you'll be brought up on charges. It won't stop people, no matter how much of an example they make of the first few.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Not legal, but clearly non-lethal: RF Jammer [].

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Not hard to sneak this through in one of the lowest populated states with a part-time legislature that meets only every other year. By the time that any push-back occurs it will be middle of 2017 and other states will have by then adopted it also using ND as a viable precedent.
      The original (pre-oil-boom) residents of the state were quite libertarian in action as well as generally just live and let-live. The politicians recently have been using the huge influx of southern-state oil workers as excuses to qu

    • by TheBilgeRat ( 1629569 ) on Thursday August 27, 2015 @11:38AM (#50403125)
      Well, seeing as shooting a police canine can result in a hefty felony, I'm guessing shooting their drone buddy will be about the same. They'll write the law to make it as if you were shooting at the operator him/herself.
  • by Bugler412 ( 2610815 ) on Thursday August 27, 2015 @09:24AM (#50401967)
    If the justification is that the officer fears for their safety, how does an armed drone possibly fit into that logic. Was the suspect threatening the officer from 1/2 mile away?!
    • by mi ( 197448 )

      If the justification is that the officer fears for their safety

      That justification, obviously, will not apply to drones. But there are other justifications — such as to disrupt a crime in progress. For example, I can see, how a sound cannon can make a would-be rapist go limp...

      • Of the option presented the most practical would be dropping pepper spray or tear gas like a crop duster... question is who would they be dropping it on... protesters, strikes, and picket lines? Criminals aren't going to bunch up in a crowd out in the open so you can dust them with pepper spray...

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The LEOs would require a warrant to use drones armed with less than lethal weapons. Here's exactly how it will (play out, thought maybe not in North Dakota).

        Another police shooting results in riots. To break up the now-three-day riots, police receive a warrant to send in drones packing tear gas and camera payloads. They'll justify this by saying they fear for police safety and arguing that "static deployment" of "crowd dispersal agents" is safer than firing tear gas canisters into a crowd. Each $50,000 dron

        • by mi ( 197448 )
          Sounds good to me... I've always been rather disheartened by protesters engaging in bona-fide criminality getting off scott-free for lack of evidence.
        • Note on words: we are not talking about "less than lethal" weapons. Those would be weapons that aren't going to kill people. The correct phrase is "less lethal", which means a weapon that's significantly less likely to kill than firearms. You can wind up killing someone with any of the weapons listed, and you can't tell who's likely to die ahead of time.

          If a LEO can get away using a taser rather than a gun, that's great, but tasers do kill people now and then, and should not be used when the user isn

      • I would tend to think that those sort of disruptions of crime in progress would be much better served by the presence of an actual officer. Not a quadcopter that took 30 minutes to get to the scene, setup and send to the target.
        • by mi ( 197448 )

          Not a quadcopter that took 30 minutes to get to the scene, setup and send to the target.

          Drones are both cheaper and faster-moving than human police. Of course, having a cop on every corner would do more to suppress crime, but that's way too expensive a proposition. Omni-present cameras and drones are the economical compromise...

    • If the justification is that the officer fears for their safety, how does an armed drone possibly fit into that logic. Was the suspect threatening the officer from 1/2 mile away?!

      Police are not armed merely for self defense. They are expected to stop someone that is threatening to kill or severely injure anyone.

      • and that purpose would be much better served by the presence of an actual officer, not a quad copter that took 30 minutes to get to the scene counting setup time and evaluation.
        • and that purpose would be much better served by the presence of an actual officer, not a quad copter that took 30 minutes to get to the scene counting setup time and evaluation.

          First off I am not advocating armed drones, either lethal or less-than-lethal, I personally think a lot more thought and research needs to be done before deciding to go that route. However it is easy to conceive of a situation where a drone can arrive on scene faster than an officer, note we are talking North Dakota here. Linear distances, or in this case as the drone flies, can be extremely misleading with respect to someone traveling by ground. A drone may be able to arrive on scene much before an officer

  • So... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Rei ( 128717 ) on Thursday August 27, 2015 @09:25AM (#50401973) Homepage

    ... So we're talking about poorly regulated government officials using flying robots to spy on and electro-paralyze people from the air.

    How exactly is this not a dystopian sci-fi novel come to life?

    Don't get me wrong, I think civil use of drones can be a great thing. Even police use of drones - tracking vehicles during a car chase, fast response to a breakin or robbery, etc. But this is just ridiculous.

    • by popo ( 107611 )

      It's totally not dystopian as long as you lock your doors, cover your windows and don't use any communications equipment.

      Also, don't drink the water.

      • They bounce lasers off of the windows, you know. So also remember to not speak when in your darkened bunker without water.

        • by cdrudge ( 68377 )

          I fooled them. I broke the glass so that they can't bounce the laser off the glass. How are they going to listen to me now? Ha!

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ScentCone ( 795499 )
      Why is it ridiculous? Why would you NOT (if it's logistically reasonable) use a small tracked RC machine on the ground to roll into one of those classic and recurring crazy-person-barricade-gun-waving scenarios, and taser that clown remotely instead of risking the life of one or more police officers? Likewise, if the circumstances happen to fit, why wouldn't you do that from 10 feet over the guy's head?

      And if you've got that same crazy guy holed up somewhere and you need to flush him out ... why would yo
      • by Dins ( 2538550 )
        All that sounds great but the problem is going to be scope creep. It'll be all innocent and noble at first, but give it 10 years...
        • Do you mean like a drone dropping pepper spray on protesters like a crop duster? That was the first thing that came to mind when I read the headline.

        • by Rei ( 128717 )

          The drones should refer to everyone as "Citizen" and mix calming language with random demands for complete and unconditional compliance.

      • Re:So... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by flink ( 18449 ) on Thursday August 27, 2015 @09:48AM (#50402165)

        The problem is that these devices will further alienate the police from the communities that they are ostensibly supposed to be serving. It's already a problem that there are hardly any cops that walk a beat anymore. Instead they are in their patrol cars the whole time and only get out when something is going down. This means that cops are no longer interacting with members of a community. No one has any positive interactions with police as the only time they interact with an officer is when he is hassling or arresting someone.

        If police drones, especially armed ones, become commonplace, my fear is that it will only deepen the police/civilian divide. It will be only a matter of time before we hear about kids getting tasered for "walking while black".

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          What we should all (or maybe rather the far too peaceful people of ND) be highly critical of is why this happened. The state rep from North Dakota was trying to get through a law that would require drone use to be requiring use of a warrant. In order to get this past the lobbying of the state police he had to give them this in return. Why can't the people rise up in disgust and make their voice heard? Why aren't they doing so?

          "I submitted with prohibition of any weapons," he continued. "The law enforcement lobby offered an amendment and said that if the amendments were added, they would not oppose. The committee accepted amendments and I didn't fight them because I wanted the bill to pass at least to require warrants. The law says that law enforcement can't use drones weaponized with lethal weapons. But in 2017 when I get back, I will introduce a bill to also include non-lethal."

        • This is exactly the damn problem. You want to solve the problem between the police and the community they "protect and server?" Take them out of the god damn cars and put them back walking a beat.

          When you have the same cops walking the same beats in the same neighbourhoods, they stop becoming outsiders and start becoming part of the neighbourhood. People know then and start to trust them. They are not some random stranger that rolls up in the 'hood and starts shouting orders.

          • Patrolling isn't as useful as responding. Even an inexperienced criminal can probably manage to not do anything obviously illegal while a police officer is walking by. If somebody is breaking into my house, I call 911, and the nearest police officer is half a mile away, I'd much rather that officer be in a car.

            • It's almost like you're completely missing the point everyone is trying to make. It's not about police effectiveness: it's about making police part of the community.
              • Sure. But putting police out on foot will do very little for police work. They're going to be pretty well useless as response units while walking a beat and talking to neighbors.

                I'm not against it, but if we do it we're going to need considerably more police with no immediate increase in police capability. (Once the police are more a part of the community, they'll probably get more cooperation and be more effective that way, but it won't happen overnight.)

        • Keep in mind that we're talking about North Dakota here. I lived in Minot for some time - their second largest community. It still wasn't that large.

          As such, they're unlikely to exploit the 'less lethal armed drone' legality. Just not enough call, not enough money. You might see a cooperative test project with a manufacturer, but that's about it.

          Meanwhile drones are probably more interesting to the counties - where it might be 30 minutes to get a deputy to an accident scene from driving distance alone.


    • by mi ( 197448 ) <> on Thursday August 27, 2015 @09:46AM (#50402147) Homepage Journal

      How exactly is this not a dystopian sci-fi novel come to life?

      The dystopian novels may concentrate on the methods, but the real reasons for gloom are the governments behind them. A vibrant democracy arming its peace officers with effective tools to help them fight crime is starkly different from a repressive dictatorship doing the same.

      And, although the US is not any longer the vibrant democracy (republic) we once were, it is not the brutal police force, that is used by our overlords today to keep opposition at bay. Not yet, anyway — for now they still use the IRS [] and other "civilized" tools [] to suppress would-be challengers. Possibly, because their support among actual police is not all that high [].

      The Sci-Fi writers didn't see any of that coming.

  • Enjoy this little remote delivery of pain courtesy of DPRK and Teledyne systems, citizen!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 27, 2015 @09:27AM (#50402005)

    FAA says no... firing an object from the air intentionally is illegal... maybe tasers could be allowed since the wire stays attached to the drone, but even then I suspect it'd need to be able to retract them... but bean bags are out.

  • brinksmanship. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nimbius ( 983462 ) on Thursday August 27, 2015 @09:33AM (#50402057) Homepage
    industries that cater to law enforcement are playing a rather dangerous game. in this case a politician was greased to allow this technology through, seemingly with very little regulatory oversight. The politician has nothing to lose thanks to constituents who dont question lock-step tough on crime policies. The industry, in turn, fully expects lucrative future contracts from a proving ground/municipality it can exploit in the future in advertisement and case study. But what does it mean for crime?

    these drones will be seen as a threat to personal freedoms and liberty interpreted by the constitution and beaten like a dead horse every other year by politicians. fugitives knowing these systems are in place will trade up their knives and pistols for shotguns, just as we do in Half Life 2 when the hacks approach. determined futitives will don chemical protection and equip their clothing in makeshift faraday decor to defeat these drones. it cannot be stressed enough that drones do not contribute to the de-escalation ethos of law enforcement. However, far more effective strategies are also far more likely to be viewed as 'soft on crime.' De-escalation in practice gets police chiefs fired and politicians run out on a rail, whereas we championed madness like 3 strikes and mandatory minimums for 25 years before wondering why we led the world in citizens incarcerated. Drones will beget more powerful weapons, which in turn will beget more lethal drones, and so the knot will tighten until police are dealing with 3d printed swarms of gun toting quadrocopters that respond from anonymous command by Tor node to riddle a target with rounds from similarly 3d printed mounted firearms.
    • by flink ( 18449 )

      Couldn't agree with you more.

    • before wondering why we led the world in citizens incarcerated.

      I've never heard anyone wonder that. The only time I've heard that kind of statistic brought up, it's in the middle of some text explaining exactly why we are so bad, and usually includes what we need to do to fix it.

  • by dargaud ( 518470 ) <> on Thursday August 27, 2015 @09:37AM (#50402085) Homepage
    ...and you are not seating in a flying car, but it exists and is firing on you.
  • by mark-t ( 151149 ) <markt.nerdflat@com> on Thursday August 27, 2015 @09:42AM (#50402113) Journal

    They just have significantly better chance than not of not killing you. They are, in fact, "less lethal", but definitely not non-lethal.

    For what it's worth, getting shot by a gun is statistically only fatal about 5% of the time. While a taser is lethal even less often than that, it's still clearly lethal.

  • Will the drones be required to play a continuous loop of "STOP RESISTING! DONT REACH FOR MY GUN! STOP RESISTING! DONT REACH FOR MY GUN!" while they remotely zap people?

  • Non-lethal?! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by pubwvj ( 1045960 ) on Thursday August 27, 2015 @10:11AM (#50402367)

    Tasers are lethal. There are many cases of police killing citizens using tasers. We have had two in our area and in both cases the police should not have been shooting anything. They justify the tasering by saying they think it is non-lethal but people are getting killed. They justify the tasering by saying they felt threatened but an officer with a drone is threatened in no way what so ever.

    It is very bad to be giving police drones.

    It is very bad to be giving police 'non-lethal' weapons that they're then killing people with because of the perceived non-lethality.

    Worst is to combine the two.

    • It depends on how the law is actually worded. A prohibition on lethal weapons is not a legalization of non-lethal weapons. FTFA:

      "Then Bruce Burkett of the North Dakota Peace Officer’s Association was allowed by the state house committee to amend HB 1328 and limit the prohibition only to lethal weapons. “Less than lethal” weapons like rubber bullets, pepper spray, tear gas, sound cannons, and Tasers are therefore permitted on police drones." (emph mine)

      While it's true that anything that is

  • It would be useful both for disrupting "business as usual" that they don't like and herding crowds into range of a more lethal device.

    I can imagine several of them being flown into, and triggered in, sessions of a legislature that authorized them. But I somehow doubt that would actually happen, even in tyrannical foreign regimes. If the legislature is giving the tyrant and his security forces what they want, why use it on them? And if the opposition can get them in there with "less than lethal" weapons p

  • by bev_tech_rob ( 313485 ) on Thursday August 27, 2015 @10:38AM (#50402641)
    It's one thing arming drones with mace, tazers, will be another HITTING someone with said tasers, mace, etc. I guess they could hire a bunch of professional RC flyers out there that have excellent skills in pinpoint piloting, but training Roscoe P. Coltrain to be able to fly a drone well enough to hit a moving or running target is another can of worms altogether..... LOL
    • Or they'll have the drone just spray the entire area (crop-duster style as another poster put it). Target gets hit. Collateral damage? Oh well. So you send fifty people to the hospital. It's not like you killed anyone.

      Bonus feature: If there's a protest you don't like going on - even a peaceful one, you can get a lot of the protesters in one sweep without putting yourself anywhere near them. After all, you just know that those protesters were turning violent right at that moment and can file that in y

    • ...but tear GAS is addressed "To Whom It May Concern".

      As for those other "less lethal" weapons... aiming skills are not the issue.
      Fact that they are LEGAL means that should they want they can employ any kind of technique to achieve that hit with a drone.
      Be it "painting" the target with a laser by a human or any and all AI or assisting technology available EVER in the future... Doesn't matter.

      The fact that this legalizes drones equipped for "less than lethal" drone strikes against civilian population is what

  • by Nyder ( 754090 ) on Thursday August 27, 2015 @11:40AM (#50403141) Journal

    I'm wondering what happens in North Dakota that requires drones with non lethal weapons to fly around? Are they planning on using this on the Native American population? Or maybe the wildlife? Or is it to keep them pesky Canadian rapists who illegally cross our border in check?

  • I would absolutely, without reservation, shoot those down.

You will lose an important disk file.